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The US government reportedly asked TikTok for unprecedented spying powers to avoid a ban

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TikTok has been in hot waters lately with regulators worldwide as they attempt to restrict or ban the social media app. However, a new report reveals that the US government may have attempted a quid pro co to allow TikTok in the country.

According to a report published by Forbes, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) allegedly offered a deal to TikTok last summer. The draft contract, as reviewed by Forbes, would have given the US government unfettered access to TikTok's internal systems and the workings of the app. The 100-page document covered all the aspects of the app and would give the US government access to the following:

  • Examine TikTok’s U.S. facilities, records, equipment and servers with minimal or no notice,
  • Block changes to the app’s U.S. terms of service, moderation policies and privacy policy,
  • Veto the hiring of any executive involved in leading TikTok’s U.S. Data Security org,
  • Order TikTok and ByteDance to pay for and subject themselves to various audits, assessments and other reports on the security of TikTok’s U.S. functions, and,
  • In some circumstances, require ByteDance to temporarily stop TikTok from functioning in the United States.

Furthermore, the US government wanted TikTok to be open to audits "by an array of independent investigative bodies, including a third-party monitor, a third-party auditor, a cybersecurity auditor, and a source code inspector." The draft also proposed excluding ByteDance from executive decisions made by the company and relying on "an executive security committee that would operate in secrecy from ByteDance."

While both the Biden and Trump administrations claimed that the oversight was required to protect the interest of Americans, various Non-Profits including ACLU have raised concerns about the draft in question. Patrick Toomey, ACLU National Security Project, told Forbes:

If this agreement would give the U.S. government the power to dictate what content TikTok can or cannot carry, or how it makes those decisions, that would raise serious concerns about the government’s ability to censor or distort what people are saying or watching on TikTok.

Toomey further argued that while CFIUS contracts are usually secret to protect the nation's security interests, an agreement like this for oversight on an app used by millions of Americans should not be kept secret.

Any agreement that would give the government such extraordinary power over a communications platform used by millions of Americans should be public, not secret.

A spokesperson from the CFIUS committee noted the following:

In every case the Committee reviews, CFIUS takes all necessary actions within its authority to safeguard national security and will not resolve any transaction unless it determines there are no unresolved national security concerns.

However, CFIUS did not comment on how the committee plans to restrict the abuse of this unprecedented oversight proposed by the government and protect the rights of the citizens. TikTok, on the other hand, refused to comment on the document while stating that the company is working with the US government to find common ground.

ByteDance attorneys have objected to several clauses in the contract including the "ones that would permit the government to unilaterally and at any moment alter specific parts of the contract in the future — highly unusual in any contract".

If both parties sign this contract, it will give the US government more power and oversight over TikTok than any other domestic social media platforms, like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter), which operate freely of oversight.

TikTok has been constantly under a microscope with countries and companies banning the app from phones to protect confidential data. Recently, Montana became the first US state to completely ban the app. Tiktok as well as the creators based out of the state had sued the state for banning the app, noting that the ban infringes upon the fundamental right to free speech.

India had earlier issued a nationwide order to ban Chinese apps including TikTok in the country and the ban has been in effect since 2020.

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