The ACLU is pushing Congress to refrain from banning the social media platform TikTok, arguing that prohibiting the app, which is owned by China, a foreign nation considered hostile, would infringe upon Americans’ First Amendment rights.
A TikTok ban would allegedly “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, said a report by MSN.
“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,” the ACLU added.
“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, according to the group.
During the first House China Select Committee hearing last month, former Deputy National Security Adviser of the United States Matthew Pottinger warned that Chinese company-linked platforms like TikTok "gives the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] the ability to manipulate our social discourse."
“TikTok is already one of the most powerful media companies in American history, and it’s still growing. It’s not just dances and kid stuff. It’s becoming a major source of news for a generation of Americans,” he added.
The social media platform TikTok is widely believed to be a tool for Chinese surveillance and propaganda, disguised as a regular app. It has been flagged as a danger to minors, a national security threat, and accused of meddling in US elections. Recently, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee voted along party lines to pass a bill that would authorize President Joe Biden to ban TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps throughout the country.
"On Monday, the White House issued a directive that gave all government agencies 30 days to eliminate TikTok, which is now banned by law from any U.S. government devices," Breitbart News reported.
TikTok really began to face scrutiny after the Trump administration, when the then-president announced plans to ban the app, along with other Chinese apps, from operating in the United States, citing security concerns.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman called the app out, stating that it was “fundamentally parasitic.”
“Maybe I’m going to regret this, but I can’t even get to that level of thinking with them,” Huffman told the site TechCrunch. “Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone.”
“Don’t install that spyware on your phone,” he added.
Apple recently discovered that TikTok was spying on users through a security loophole in iOS that allowed apps to access the clipboard on users’ devices secretly. Security researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk found that TikTok was one of the apps using this loophole, which was set to be plugged in the upcoming iOS 14 update.
Cybersecurity expert Gary Miliefsky, who in 2014 discovered that many of the top mobile flashlight apps in Google’s Play store were linked to China, worries that the app may be a scaled-up version of those spyware apps.
“If you want to spy on a country, why send in a spy the old-fashioned way?” he said. “Why not just send in a great app and make it go viral?”