Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) exhorted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to force the divestment of TikTok from ByteDance, its Chinese parent company.
ByteDance, which is located in Beijing, has been accused of maintaining close ties with the Chinese Communist Party. Blumenthal and Moran suggested in a Thursday letter to Yellen that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a board composed of nine cabinet-level officials charged with reviewing the national security implications of foreign investments into American companies, should compel ByteDance to jettison operations for TikTok within the United States.
“TikTok, which collects the sensitive information of tens of millions of American users and plays an increasing role in our society, is well within the scope of CFIUS’s national security mandate,” the lawmakers contended. The letter referenced CFIUS requiring that Beijing Kunlun Company divest itself of LGBTQ dating site Grindr and healthcare platform PatientsLikeMe four years ago under the Trump administration.
Blumenthal and Moran also noted how ByteDance acknowledged at the end of last year that staff members had “spied on the private data of journalists and others in order identify sources behind articles critical of the company.” The revelation confirmed an earlier report from Forbes which indicated that ByteDance planned to track the location of specific American citizens.
“This bombshell disclosure demonstrates that TikTok and ByteDance cannot be trusted by CFIUS or its tens of millions of users in the United States,” the letter continued. “Therefore, CFIUS should impose structural separations and firm restrictions on ByteDance’s ability to: access Americans’ personal data; make decisions about content moderation; control its algorithmic recommendation systems; and oversee its U.S. operations.”
The two lawmakers are the latest from both sides of the aisle to observe the national security implications of permitting American consumers to utilize TikTok. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) pressed Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai earlier this month to remove the site from the companies’ app stores.
President Joe Biden signed legislation prohibiting TikTok from devices owned by the federal government, while several states, including Nebraska, Alabama, and Iowa, had previously banned the platform from government devices. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next month.
Renewed controversy over TikTok and broader Sino-American relations occurs after at least one Chinese surveillance balloon recently traversed the continental United States. The vessel crossed Montana, the home of many defense assets and missile silos, then traveled over states such as Kansas and Missouri before the object was shot down off the coast of the Carolinas.
The White House is now expected to unveil an executive order that would ban American funds from enabling the development of Chinese advanced semiconductors, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other technologies with surveillance and military applications, according to a recent report from The New York Times. Yellen and other senior administration officials spent months contacting industry leaders to forecast the economic implications of the executive order, according to another report from Axios released last month. News of the nearly completed measure came as lawmakers threatened to pursue their own investment restrictions in the absence of federal plans.