The Biden administration has warned TikTok it may be banned in the United States if its Chinese parent company doesn’t sell its stake in the popular video app, according to a TikTok spokesperson.
The U.S. regulator for foreign investments in America, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), issued the warning to TikTok, the company told Reuters on Wednesday.
The ban would be a significant development in a recent series of moves by U.S. officials and lawmakers, with some who’ve been concerned the app may effectively be a Chinese “spy balloon in your phone.”
TikTok has 100 million users in the United States and 1 billion users worldwide. Its Chinese ownership, however, makes the app dangerous, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
As a China-based company, ByteDance is subject to Chinese law, which requires any company within its borders to hand over data to its ruling communist regime.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said CFIUS recently laid out steps for TikTok to satisfy the government’s national security concerns. This includes demands that the Chinese owners of the app sell their shares or face a total ban.
Former President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in 2020, citing the same concerns, but was blocked by U.S. courts. The fresh threats are now being led by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
In 2020, CFIUS unanimously recommended that ByteDance divest TikTok. Under pressure from then-President Trump, ByteDance unsuccessfully sought to finalize a deal with Walmart and Oracle Corp. to shift TikTok‘s U.S. assets into a new entity.
According to the spokesperson, TikTok believes the best way to address national security concerns is to continue with its Oracle project to route user data through Texas with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification.
Chinese Spy App
TikTok has more than 100 million users in America, with many earning an income from the app. Some lawmakers and security experts have described the app as “a spy balloon into your phone.”
In line with actions taken by global leaders, the White House on Feb. 20 ordered the Chinese-owned app purged from all government devices and systems to keep U.S. data safe.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released guidance to all federal agencies requiring them to prohibit internet traffic from reaching the Chinese-owned company as part of the purge.
According to the OMB memo, while some uses of the app on government devices may be permitted—such as for national security, law enforcement, or security research activities—blanket exemptions for entire agencies will not be permitted.
However, agency leaders must approve such activities, according to the memo.
National security concerns have heightened around China after the Chinese spy balloon recently floated over the United States, hovering over military installations before being shot down after several days.
Multiple elected officials and security experts have expressed concerns about TikTok being used as a tool for Chinese spying.
“This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government, and it, to me, it screams out with national security concerns,” FBI Director Wray told senators at a March 8 hearing on “Worldwide Threats.”
Canada, India, Taiwan, the European Union, and several U.S. states have already ordered similar bans on government devices. Canada considers the app to present “an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.” The EU cited similar concerns.
The Epoch Times has previously reported that TikTok has called these bans “political theater.”
After the app was banned on government devices, TikTok expressed concern that a blanket ban could follow.
“We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, U.S. Congress will explore solutions that won’t have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
The Epoch Times contacted the White House and the Treasury Department for comment.