By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday opposed efforts in Congress to ban popular Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, which is used by more than 150 million Americans.
A small but growing number of Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns, citing free speech and other issues and have objected to legislation targeting TikTok as overly broad.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley said this week he hoped to get unanimous consent for a TikTok ban bill.
“Congressional Republicans have come up with a national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation: Ban a social media app called TikTok that 94 million, primarily young Americans, use,” Paul said in an opinion piece published Wednesday in Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal.
“Before banning TikTok, these censors might want to discover that China’s government already bans TikTok. Hmmm … do we really want to emulate China’s speech bans?”
Paul added: “If you don’t like TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, don’t use them. But don’t think any interpretation of the Constitution gives you the right to ban them.”
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress last week and faced tough questions about national security concerns over the ByteDance-owned app.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a TikTok video Friday opposed a TikTok ban, calling it “unprecedented” and said Congress has not gotten classified TikTok briefings. “It just doesn’t feel right to me,” she said.
Last week, three Democrats in the House of Representatives opposed a TikTok ban, as do free speech groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Many Democrats argue Congress should pass comprehensive privacy legislation covering all social media sites, not just TikTok.
Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, have proposed the RESTRICT Act, which now has 22 Senate cosponsors, to give the Commerce Department power to impose restrictions up to and including banning TikTok and other technologies that pose national security risks. It would apply to foreign technologies from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.
A growing number of conservatives oppose the measure. Former Republican Representative Justin Amash said the “RESTRICT Act isn’t about banning TikTok; it’s about controlling you. It gives broad powers to the executive branch, with few checks, and will be abused in every way you can imagine.”
A Warner spokeswoman said “to be extremely clear, this legislation is aimed squarely at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States’ national security not at individual users.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson)