FCC Commissioner Says India Set ‘An Incredibly Important Precedent’ By Banning TikTok

banning TikTok
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banning TikTok
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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / CC by 2.0

FCC Commissioner says India set ‘an incredibly important precedent’ by banning TikTok and is a ‘guide star’ for other countries.

According to Brendan Carr, Commissioner of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nothing short of a “blanket ban” on TikTok in the US will keep the short-form video app from potentially threatening national security.  

“Banning TikTok is a natural next step in our efforts to secure communication networks,” says Carr. “(TikTok) operates as a sophisticated surveillance tool, and that presents a serious national security threat.”

Carr explains that because all of TikTok users’ “sensitive and non-public data is going to Beijing” due to the app’s ownership by Chinese company ByteDance, the Chinese government could use that information for “blackmail, espionage, foreign influence campaigns, and surveillance.”

“That’s a nightmare scenario,” Carr adds.

Carr has been a significant proponent of banning TikTok in the US, and his recent comments come amid an increasing crackdown on the app across state departments. More than 15 states have banned the app on government devices, while the state of Indiana sued TikTok for “inflicting harm on residents.” 

In December, Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill in both houses of Congress that included an outright ban on TikTok. There have been talks of establishing “mitigating measures,” but Carr says he doesn’t see “anything other than a blanket ban” making enough of a difference.

While TikTok is currently the primary focus, Carr notes that eventually, there will be a need to take “a more holistic approach like India’s.”

“We need to follow India’s lead more broadly to weed out other nefarious apps as well,” he says.

TikTok has already been banned across federal agencies, including the White House, Defense, Homeland Security, and State departments. Last week, Catherine Szpindor, the chief administrator of the House of Representatives, instructed all staff and lawmakers to delete TikTok from their devices.

Several predominantly Republican-led states have banned using the Chinese-owned app across government devices, including Texas, South Dakota, and Virginia. Nebraska was the first state to issue a ban on TikTok in 2020. Calls to ban TikTok have surfaced in other countries, including Australia and Taiwan.

India banned the app and nearly 300 other Chinese-owned apps in phases that began in June 2020, citing national security concerns. At the time, TikTok had more than 200 million users in India, its biggest overseas market.

“India’s strong leadership has been informative and helpful as we have debated banning TikTok in the US,” says Carr. “For those who argue that there is no way to ban an app, India is an example of a country that has done it and done it successfully.”

He adds that he expects the bipartisan bill to be reintroduced in the new Congress this month. A debate will likely arise over “whether mitigating measures will work or if the US should adopt India’s approach,” Carr adds.

“If you look at the history of TikTok’s malign data flows and its misleading representations, I don’t see a path forward for anything other than a blanket ban working,” he reiterates.

The widely held perception is that TikTok is just a place where videos are shared and dance memes are born, but Carr insists that the reality is far more sinister. As China requires all its businesses to forfeit all data to the government upon request, TikTok and apps like it are sophisticated surveillance tools that present a severe national security threat.

Similarly, US Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) says it is crucial to remember that “TikTok is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.” In China, the CCP has imposed a series of national security laws providing extensive and extrajudicial access opportunities for any CCP-controlled security services.

“What this means is that the CCP can ultimately force TikTok, or any other Chinese company, to hand over access to its data,” says Warner. “In the case of TikTok, that data includes an enormous amount of information on Americans, including birthdates, phone numbers, and device identification information.”

Recent updates to TikTok’s privacy policy indicate that the company may begin collecting biometric data such as facial and voice recognition. Warner cautions: “Needless to say, this is not information we want in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”