Some two years after a push by the Trump administration for ByteDance Ltd. to sell the U.S. operations of TikTok, all that is old is new again with a report that the Biden administration is now pushing for the same thing.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that administration officials are pushing for the sale to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party cannot use the app for espionage and political influence. The idea of a forced sale of TikTok is said to have been discussed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. Representatives from the Pentagon and the Department of Justice reportedly are pushing for the sale.
Concerns raised at the committee include the ability of the Chinese government to acquire information on U.S. users and dictate what content is or isn’t shown on the platform. The same officials raising concerns are also said to be arguing that the only way the concerns can be addressed is by separating the app from ByteDance.
“We’re talking about a government that, in our own intelligence community’s estimation, has a purpose to move global technology use and norms to privilege its own interests and its values, which are not consistent with our own,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told the Journal. The government, in this case, refers to China.
While sounding simple in theory, forcing a Chinese company to divest its U.S. operations is not easy. The Treasury Department, which chairs the committee, is said to be concerned that an order demanding that ByteDance divest TikTok in the U.S. might be overturned in court. A U.S. federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s plans in September 2020 and further attempts to argue the case were dropped when the Biden administration came to power.
The same arguments made by the Biden administration in 2022 were made by the Trump administration in 2020. Mainstream media previously labeled those arguments as xenophobic and the concerns about national security were dismissed. The only thing that has changed two years later is that a new president sits in the White House, since it’s still the same TikTok collecting data on millions of Americans.
“As painful as it is for me to say, if Donald Trump was right and we could’ve taken action then, that’d have been a heck of a lot easier than trying to take action in November of 2022,” Sen. Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview last month.
If the Biden administration forces ByteDance to divest TikTok in the U.S. next year, there may be several potential suitors. Before the Trump era plans were shelved, companies taking an interest in buying TikTok included Microsoft Corp. and Twitter Inc. Before the divestment was halted, Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. had agreed to a partnership to take over TikTok in the U.S.