ACLU Strongly Opposes House Bill that Would Ban TikTok and Threaten First Amendment Rights

February 27, 2023 7:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committees today, the American Civil Liberties Union has urged members to vote no on HR 1153, a bill introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Friday, that would effectively ban TikTok in the U.S., violating the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans who use the app to communicate and express themselves daily.

“Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. Whether we’re discussing the news of the day, live streaming protests, or ​​even watching cat videos, we have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at ACLU.

HR 1153 is intended to effectively ban TikTok in the U.S. — and could ban many other businesses and applications as well — by requiring the secretary of the treasury to forbid U.S. citizens from engaging with entities that “may” transfer sensitive personal data to a foreign entity that is “subject to the influence of China.”

It would also require the president to impose sanctions on foreign entities operating software that is “subject to the jurisdiction or… influence of China” and that “may be facilitating” a long list of activities by the Chinese government. Finally, the law would exempt “sensitive personal data” from the protection of the Berman Amendment. Passed in 1988, it’s what protects our right to receive information, regardless of what country that information was created in. That means the U.S. government can’t ban a book by a Chinese author simply because it’s from China — or in this case, you can’t ban a social media platform simply because the app is from a Chinese company.

The bill text and markup notice were made available online just 48 hours before the scheduled markup, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee has never held a hearing on this bill. This lack of notice and transparency means there has been no time for lawmakers to ask questions or hear from outside experts who could explain the immense consequences of this vague and overbroad legislation.

As the ACLU noted when former President Trump tried to ban TikTok nationally in 2020, selective bans of entire platforms “could cut off the flow of information, art, and communication that social media provides, interfering with communities and connections users in the United States have with each other and with people around the world. This interference with freedom of expression and association violates the First Amendment.”

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