Senators Receive Briefing on TikTok By National Security Officials as Critical Vote Looms

TikTok Senators briefing
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TikTok Senators briefing
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Photo Credit: Obi

U.S. Senators will receive a classified briefing on Wednesday from national security officials concerning threats posed by TikTok.

The classified briefing will be hosted by chairs of the Commerce and Intelligence committees—Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) alongside Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). The Senate is now considering how to proceed following a vote in the House last week that would force Chinese company ByteDance to divest from TikTok.

If ByteDance does not divest, TikTok faces a ban in the United States. That bill gives ByteDance 180 days to divest—which analysts say is not enough time to complete such a huge transaction.

Around 170 million Americans use TikTok monthly after the app grew exponentially during the pandemic. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew met with lawmakers last week, saying if the legislation is signed into law it will “lead to a ban on TikTok in the United States.”

The classified briefing will include FBI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Justice Department figures to explain national security threats posed by foreign adversaries’ exploitation of American data. Senator Cantwell stated in an interview last week that she wants legislation to address broad concerns about foreign apps that will stand up in court.

Meanwhile the Chinese government has signaled that it won’t allow a forced sale of TikTok—even as U.S. buyers line up for a potential acquisition. During a news conference on March 14, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Commerce said the U.S. should “stop unreasonably suppressing” TikTok. “[TikTok] should strictly abide by Chinese laws and regulations,” that spokesperson said.

Under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regulations, companies that operate in China (ByteDance) are required to give government officials access to sensitive data from both Chinese and foreign-owned businesses that operate in China. A former ByteDance executive is on record in May 2023 admitting that the CCP maintained “supreme access” to data belonging to TikTok parent ByteDance, including data stored in the United States.