ACLU urges US lawmakers not to ban TikTok, citing free speech

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday urged Congress not to ban the Chinese-owned video app TikTok, saying it would violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans, a day before a U.S. House of Representatives committee is to take up legislation.

A TikTok ban would "limit Americans’ political discussion, artistic expression, free exchange of ideas — and even prevent people from posting cute animal videos and memes," the ACLU said in a letter to lawmakers. "Americans 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," it added.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to vote Tuesday on a bill to give President Joe Biden new powers to ban the app, which is used by more than 100 million Americans. A ban would require passage by the full House and the Senate before the president could sign it into law.

Earlier this month, Biden said he was not sure if Washington would ban TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

The legislation before the House is the latest measure in response to fears that data of U.S. users could be passed on to the Chinese government.

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House gave government agencies 30 days to ensure that TikTok is not on any federal devices and systems. Various U.S. states, Canada and European Union policy institutions have also banned TikTok from being loaded onto state-owned devices.

"It would be unfortunate if the House Foreign Affairs Committee were to censor millions of Americans, and do so based not on actual intelligence, but on a basic misunderstanding of our corporate structure," TikTok said Monday, adding that it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts.

Representative Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement on Monday, said the legislation "empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten U.S. national security. And make no mistake – TikTok is a security threat."

TikTok, he said, "allows (China) to manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans' data to be used for their malign activities."

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat who supports banning TikTok, said on CBS on Sunday that he did not think TikTok would be banned. "All we're saying is if TikTok is going to operate here, don't have that user data and algorithms controlled by an adversarial regime," he said.

The U.S. government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 unanimously recommended that ByteDance divest TikTok because of fears that user data could be passed onto China's government.

TikTok said Monday "the swiftest and most thorough way to address national security concerns is for CFIUS to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years."

TikTok officials have been on Capitol Hill this month trying to convince lawmakers of its efforts to protect data security.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler

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