Rep. Khanna says potential TikTok ban won’t solve the problem, calls for ‘narrowly tailored law’

Written by on March 17, 2024

ABC News

Rep. Ro Khanna said on Sunday that the TikTok bill the House of Representatives passed last week wouldn’t actually protect Americans, instead pushing for other legislation that he says would better prevent foreign countries from obtaining private information.

The bill in the House would force China-based ByteDance to sell TikTok or face having the wildly popular app banned outright in the U.S. It was sparked by concerns that ByteDance could share (or be forced to share) Americans’ data with the Chinese government, claims the company calls unfounded as it vigorously advocates against the new legislation.

Khanna, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley in California, voted against the bill, citing First Amendment concerns, though the legislation was approved by a broad, bipartisan majority.

“There are two national security issues that proponents of the bill have cited. Both are legitimate. One, will the data get to a foreign government, in this case the Chinese Communist Party? Two, will the Chinese Communist Party have an influence on algorithms? We can deal with both with a narrowly tailored law,” Khanna told ABC News “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“Let’s ban any data going to a foreign country and protect American data. Second, let’s ban any foreign interference in a social media app, whether that’s TikTok or another app. And by the way, those laws would also cover data brokers, which are selling data to Chinese companies,” Khanna said. “So this bill is not actually addressing the issue.”

Debate over the popular app raged on Capitol Hill last week, culminating in the House’s vote to send the forced-sale bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hasn’t committed to putting it up for a floor vote.

It’s also unclear if 60 senators would back the proposal, as would be needed. The White House supports the legislation.

In the House, the bill transcended traditional political alliances, with China hawks in both parties uniting behind it and free speech absolutists opposing it, arguing, like Khanna, that it went too far and was too focused on TikTok.

On “This Week,” Khanna said a more effective solution would be multi-step.

“Pass a law, one, to prevent these apps, whether it’s TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, from collecting data. That bill has been sitting in the House Commerce Committee for years, and it doesn’t move. Second, pass a law that if there’s any evidence that the data goes to China, then [server company] Oracle and TikTok would be held liable, civilly or criminally,” Khanna said.

“Third, pass a law that if Chinese nationals are involved in the algorithms — people are claiming these algorithms are manipulating Americans — if there’s any information, insight, evidence that a Chinese national or any foreign national is manipulating algorithms, that would be illegal,” he said.

When pressed by Raddatz on how conceivable it is to craft and enact such legislation, Khanna insisted it would be “easier” to pass than the current bill.

“If we passed a law saying you can’t transfer data, you can’t collect data, that would actually solve the problem,” he said.

He also pointed to the concerns of many of the app’s users that a potential ban threatens not just their platform but their businesses. He dismissed the idea that these people could simply migrate to another app.

“The audience is very different …. I think it would be hard,” he said.

More broadly, Khanna chafed at the spotlight on TikTok versus what he called larger issues.

“The frustration is that we haven’t been able to pass these data privacy laws. … We haven’t passed the laws to ban foreign interference,” he said.

Khanna, a prominent surrogate for President Joe Biden’s reelection bid, separately defended the president’s handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, saying that the U.S. has an obligation to help Israel protect itself but that the administration is listening to critics of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas and its allies.

A protest movement to have Democratic primary voters cast “uncommitted” ballots against Biden has gained some traction in a few states, including the key battleground of Michigan.

“President Biden, now, and his team, are shifting and understanding that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s policies have not been in the interests of protecting civilian life, that too many innocent civilians have died, and he has finally called for a cease-fire with the release of hostages, and they’re being heard,” Khanna said. (Israel insists it takes steps to curb civilian casualties.)

“Now, it’s obvious that I have had disagreements with President Biden on this,” said Khanna, who has called for a permanent cease-fire. “But here’s what I know: At least he’s listening. Donald Trump wouldn’t listen.”

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