WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), both members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in calling for the Secretary of Commerce to add ByteDance – TikTok’s parent company – to the Commerce Department’s foreign entity list. As ByteDance continues to operate in the U.S., the Crenshaw-Gottheimer letter calls on the Biden Administration to use its authority to address the worst excesses of the app by preventing the transfer of U.S. software to ByteDance.

In 2023, Congress’ attempts to pass legislation to address the threat of TikTok fell short, despite reports that the social media platform allowed TikTok engineers and executives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to access the private data of users in the U.S. This followed a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in March of 2023, where Congressman Crenshaw questioned TikTok’s CEO, Shou Chew, on data access. During this hearing, Mr. Chew effectively admitted that TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, spied on American citizens. 

“Unfortunately, China continues to infiltrate our private lives and poison the minds of our youth. Our threats to shut down TikTok have not stopped them from continuing to prey on the American people and collect our data,” said Rep. Crenshaw. “This is unacceptable and must be swiftly addressed. I support legislation to ban TikTok, full stop. But I am also calling on the Biden Administration to take immediate action to protect users across our nation.”

“In the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, the data TikTok has collected is an enormous asset to one of our greatest enemies and their malign activities,” said Rep. Gottheimer. “By preventing the transfer of U.S. software and technology to ByteDance, the U.S. can fight back against TikTok’s information invasion against America’s families.”

Excerpts from the Letter:

“There are serious issues with access to U.S. user data, and the relationship between ByteDance and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Despite misrepresenting their relationship in sworn testimony before multiple Congressional committees, TikTok’s software engineering personnel ultimately report to ByteDance leadership in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Moreover, any ByteDance data that is viewed, stored, or that passes through China is subject to the laws of China, a one-party authoritarian state hostile to American democracy.”

“In fact, China’s 2021 Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law prohibits Chinese (and non-Chinese) entities – wherever they are located – from complying with foreign restrictions that impede the ability of Chinese businesses to operate in ways that advance the Chinese government’s interests. This law, of course, prohibits TikTok and ByteDance from complying with all U.S. Government and state regulations that regulate its collection and use of data.”

“The addition of ByteDance to the BIS Entity List would be an important step in shielding U.S. users from the worst excesses of these applications, while preventing the further development and proliferation of these security concerns. Most notably, your department took similar action with Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. (Huawei) and many of its non-U.S. affiliates in 2019.”  

“This step would be instrumental in applying licensing restrictions to the export of software from the U.S. to ByteDance for its applications. If American users are not able to upgrade their app with software updates, which involves the export of U.S. software, then the operability of the applications of concern will be weakened.”

Read the full letter here

What they are saying: 

“It is well-known that China’s government exploits Chinese companies to access Americans’ data, including for purposes of espionage. Even more important in the case of TikTok, however, is how China’s government exploits Chinese companies for overseas political interference through propaganda, misinformation, and censorship,” said Matt Pottinger, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Trump. “This is why TikTok is a more powerful tool for influencing our democratic politics than any foreign adversary in history could ever have dreamed of. I commend Reps. Crenshaw and Gottheimer for their leadership and hope the Commerce Department takes action.”

“For years, the U.S. Government has been warning that TikTok poses substantial risks to U.S. national security and individual Americans' privacy. Yet, nothing was ever done to address these risks,” said Nazak Nikakhtar, former Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis. “Finally, Congressman Crenshaw and Congressman Gottheimer's proposal tackles these risks head-on; it is an elegant solution because it weakens TikTok's ability to continue its malign behavior in the United States without regulating private citizens' content on the app, as all content is free to migrate to more secure social media platforms. This proposal is immediately implementable and would have a significant long-term impact on U.S. national security interests.”

“TikTok isn’t like other social media companies. Its parent company, ByteDance, is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Michael Sobolik, Senior Fellow in Indo-Pacific Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “Moreover, TikTok has censored information deemed sensitive by Beijing. It is a conduit of CCP-directed disinformation and propaganda that directly reaches the phones of over 150 million Americans. Policymakers should take steps to degrade TikTok’s ability to function in America. Congressman Crenshaw and Congressman Gottheimer have identified a creative way to do just that. The Department of Commerce should take these bipartisan suggestions seriously.” 

“There’s a reason that TikTok has gained the moniker ‘digital fentanyl.’ Engineered to create addiction, the use of TikTok decreases attention spans and increases anxiety and depression. As if that is not bad enough, translated Chinese military documents explain this development as part of the evolution in warfare, an intentional attack on the opponent’s mind,” said Stephen Coonen, former Senior Foreign Affairs Advisor, Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), Office of the Secretary of Defense. “Thus, in addition to rotting their brains, Americans’ data is being weaponized against them. Chinese officials, using artificial intelligence and the massive amount of TikTok generated data can train and perfect their models to potentially induce paralysis and control minds.”