How TikTok’s Chinese parent company will rely on American rights to keep the app alive

How TikTok’s Chinese parent company will rely on American rights to keep the app alive

TikTok’s expected legal challenge to a law signed Wednesday by President Joe Biden that forces the popular app’s parent company to shut down its US operations could be a watershed moment in First Amendment law in what will be a defining year of cases.

The new law gives TikTok’s parent company ByteDance nine months to sell the short video app or face a ban in the US, where it claims about 170 million users and has raised national security concerns over its ability to potentially collect data and influence people. America. .

But ironically, ByteDance, based in China where the ruling Communist Party has cracked down on free speech and dissent, will rely on these American rights to protect its business interests.

“We are confident and we will continue to fight for your rights in court. The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to win,” TikTok chief executive Shou Chew said in a video posted on the app in response to the new law.

In recent months, the company has hinted it plans to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds. Ahead of the law’s passage, TikTok encouraged its millions of users to call members of Congress to protest the bill, arguing it would violate their “Constitutional right to free speech”. -statewide bans on TikTok such as Montana’s, saying the law has “both infringed on [TikTok’s] First Amendment rights and cut off the revenue stream that so many depend on”.

While the details of TikTok’s legal case are not yet public, legal scholars say the government has only a very narrow argument to defend to force the sale.

“At stake here is not the interests of TikTok, but the interests of the millions of Americans who use the platform,” Ramya Krishnan, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told CNN. “So whatever rights TikTok has or doesn’t have, it’s indisputable that Americans have the right to access and use social media and the media of their choice.”

To override that right, the government’s strongest argument is based on national security, said Nate Persily, a Stanford law professor and Co-Founding Director of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center.

“If the company obtains data about US residents that the Chinese government can use in a way that threatens American national security, that is certainly a compelling national interest that can override what may be consumers’ first amendment rights. or platform,” said Persily.

“I think that’s a pretty strong argument, actually. I mean, is it technically feasible to stop their data collection operations in the US, given that they’re feeding back into the algorithm globally now,” added Persily.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said earlier this week that TikTok is a “national security concern” because “it is the responsibility of the Chinese government.”

“It has to do with data, recommendation algorithms, and software,” Wray said in an NBC News interview. “That data, we’re talking about the ability to control or collect data on millions and millions of users, and use it for all kinds of influence operations, like driving their AI efforts that are not constrained by the rule of law. ”

TikTok said it has never provided data to the Chinese government and has “invested billions of dollars to ensure US data is secure and our platform is free from outside influence and manipulation.”

But legal experts say potential influence operations on TikTok, such as blocking content on the app, are not persuasive arguments that would be brought to court. (TikTok has denied it blocks content).

“It’s less convincing to say that the reason you’re going to ban a foreign platform is because you’re afraid of the message it conveys,” Persily said.

Krishnan said even the national security argument would not survive legal scrutiny because the Chinese government could easily buy the same data on Americans through the open market.

“[The government] will not be able to meet that burden here, not only because much of this information is information that China could have obtained through other means, but because the government can protect American privacy more effectively by submitting data to comprehensive privacy laws,” he said.

Undan challenge The TikTok law will be one of several that could eventually reach the US Supreme Court that could completely redefine online speech. Another high-profile case that will determine whether social media companies can moderate content on their platforms is also likely to be decided this year.

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