McCarthy expects US House will pass legislation to address TikTok

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy thinks lawmakers will pass bipartisan legislation to address national security worries about Chinese-owned short video app TikTok, he said on Friday, and called the testimony of the company’s CEO “very concerning.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before a U.S. House Committee for about five hours on Thursday and lawmakers from both parties grilled him about national security and other concerns about the app used by 150 million Americans. “Here’s a CEO that can’t tell you that China’s not spying on the data,” McCarthy said.

There are growing calls to ban TikTok or to pass bipartisan legislation to give the Biden administration legal authority to seek a ban. Former U.S. President Donald Trump lost a series of court rulings in 2020 when he sought to ban TikTok and another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, a unit of Tencent.

McCarthy appeared to be referring to an exchange during the hearing that TikTok later argued was mischaracterized.

At Thursday’s House hearing, Representative Neal Dunn asked Chew if ByteDance has spied on Americans at Beijing’s request. Chew answered, “No.”

Republican Dunn then referenced the company’s disclosure in December that some China-based employees at ByteDance improperly accessed TikTok user data of two journalists and were no longer employed by the company and repeated his question about whether ByteDance was spying.

“I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it,” Chew said. He went on to describe the reports as involving an “internal investigation,” but was cut off by Dunn, who called TikTok’s widespread use “a cancer.”

Many Democrats also have raised concerns but are not yet backing a U.S. ban.

“There are real national security concerns with respect to TikTok,” said House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Friday, citing privacy and consumer protection issues.

Chew posted a video on TikTok on Friday recounting his appearance. “We will continue to protect your data from unauthorized foreign access,” he said.

The Senate Commerce Committee has not yet scheduled a hearing to consider a bill that Senators Mark Warner and John Thune proposed called the “RESTRICT Act” that now has 20 Senate cosponsors and would allow the Commerce Department to ban foreign technology that poses a national security risk. The earliest that would occur is mid-April when the Senate returns from recess.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Josie Kao)