Demands Growing To Ban TikTok App in U.S.

by Cliff Vacin ‘25

TikTok being banned in the United States is increasingly looking like a real possibility. Last week, the Biden administration demanded that the Chinese company that owns the app must sell it, or they will face a ban. TikTok responded it was weighing its options and was disappointed by the Biden administration’s decision. However, the United States is not alone in its actions, and The New York Times reported that Britain became the latest Western country to prohibit the use of TikTok on government devices because of security and privacy concerns.

These latest actions follow a measure passed by Congress last December to ban TikTok on all federal government devices. Since then, tensions between the United States and China have increased after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down over U.S. airspace.

That incident has intensified calls from members of Congress to go even further and ban TikTok for all American users. Earlier this month, a bipartisan bill, led by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), would empower the Secretary of Commerce to ban foreign technologies and companies from operating in the United States if they present a threat to national security. The bill is aimed at TikTok. A few countries have threatened to ban or have banned TikTok use on government devices.

The Biden Administration faces a complex problem in which TikTok poses a risk to national security but is the most popular viral app and is used by two-thirds of American teens. TikTok has tried to head off any ban and denies sharing any information with the Chinese government, stating that it has distanced itself from the parent company based in China. Recently, a TikTok official presented a keynote speech detailing Project Texas, the company’s most substantial effort to address foreign threats to U.S. data. The proposal would wall off most of TikTok’s U.S. operations from ByteDance, its Chinese parent company. In such a deal, TikTok could be sold to an American company.

U.S. states are also taking action against TikTok, going so far as to limit access to non-government users, with more than 30 states voting to restrict TikTok in some way. In December, Alabama and Utah joined at least eight other states in banning the app on government devices and apps. Alabama has taken the additional step of blocking the app on the WiFi of the state’s public universities and colleges, but students can still access the app on personal devices.

Some organizations are mounting opposition to the bans on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment right to free speech for TikTok users. “Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a press statement. “Whether we’re discussing the news of the day, live streaming protests, or even watching cat videos, we have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world.”