Rand Paul Opposes Congressional Efforts to Ban TikTok

March 29, 2023

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Wednesday opposed efforts in Congress to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

A number of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the video-sharing app following warnings in November from FBI Director Chris Wray that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations.

In the past several months, Congress, the White House, and more than a dozen states have taken actions to ban TikTok on government devices. 

This week, Paul’s fellow Republican Senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, said he hoped to get unanimous consent on a bill to ban TikTok nationwide on all devices. 

“Before banning TikTok, these censors might want to discover that China’s government already bans TikTok. Hmmm…do we really want to emulate China’s speech bans?” Paul said in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Louisville Courier Journal. 

Noting the app’s massive popularity, Paul added, “If you don’t like TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, don’t use them. But don’t think any interpretation of the Constitution gives you the right to ban them.”

TikTok reportedly has more than 1 billion monthly active users in more than 150 countries worldwide, including a reported 150 million users in the U.S., the majority of whom are 18-24 years old. 

On the House side, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last week opposed the ban—via a TikTok video—calling it “unprecedented” and pointing out that Congress has not gotten classified TikTok briefings.

She asserted that a rush to prematurely cut off more than 150 million Americans from media access was akin to both parties “putting the cart before the horse.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also opposed a nationwide TikTok ban. 

Seeking to reach a compromise, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) have proposed the RESTRICT Act, which would give the Commerce Department power to impose restrictions up to and including banning TikTok and other technologies that pose national security risks. It would apply to foreign technologies from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.

Currently, their legislation has 22 Senate co-sponsors, but a growing number of conservatives have come out against it. 

“RESTRICT Act isn’t about banning TikTok; it’s about controlling you,” said former Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), arguing that the legislation gives “broad powers” to the Executive branch with “few checks.” 

Last week, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced a grilling by members from both parties in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who pressed him on issues of online privacy and security, including users’ potential exposure to the Chinese government. 

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