Republican lawmakers demand TikTok ban for members of Congress

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(WASHINGTON) — A group of Republican lawmakers on Monday called for a ban on the use of TikTok by their colleagues in Congress, escalating an attack on the China-based social media app over data security fears that has rapidly gained momentum on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Thom Tillis are among 17 Republican lawmakers issuing the request to leaders of the Senate Rules Committee and the Committee on House Administration.

“We urge you to amend the House and Senate rules to bar members of Congress from continued use of TikTok and take any other appropriate measures to mitigate the risks of this de-facto, spyware app,” the elected officials said in a letter to committee leaders.

“Some members of Congress who regularly use the app have minimized the security threat to our nation, and their defense is not compelling, considering there are several popular social media apps that are not at the same risk for the potential transfer of sensitive, private information to an adversarial foreign government,” they added.

There is no evidence that TikTok has shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government or that the Chinese government has asked the app to do so, cybersecurity experts previously told ABC News.

Still, there’s reason to believe the Chinese government could compel the company to share data on U.S. users or manipulate content on the app to forward a pro-China agenda, the experts cautioned.

The letter from some conservative lawmakers arrives less than a month after TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced roughly five hours of bipartisan hostility during high-profile testimony before a House committee.

“It is clear from the testimony and comments from TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew, that all members of Congress must lead by example and immediately stop using the platform for official communications,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

In December, the U.S. enacted a law banning the use of TikTok on government devices by almost four million federal employees.

More than half of U.S. states have taken steps toward a partial or full ban of TikTok on government devices.

Some lawmakers and advocates, however, have sought to extend the ban to all U.S. users.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted last month to approve a bill that would give Biden the authority to ban TikTok.

The Biden administration last month endorsed a different bipartisan bill, which does not specifically target TikTok but empowers the federal government to ban electronics or software with foreign ties, such as TikTok.

A potential ban of TikTok, which counts more than 150 million U.S. users, raises concerns about limits placed on free speech and would likely face a legal challenge, some experts and civil liberties advocates told ABC News.

A group of federal lawmakers from across the political spectrum has taken up opposition to a TikTok ban, including conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The critics of a ban say such a move would be tantamount to censorship.

In the letter on Monday, proponents criticized some of their colleagues for continuing to use TikTok, though the letter did not identify any such members of Congress by name.

“It is troublesome that some members continue to disregard these clear warnings and are even encouraging their constituents to use TikTok to interface with their elected representatives,” the lawmakers said.

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