KEY VOTE: “YES” on the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (H.R. 7521)

KEY VOTE: House · Mar 11, 2024

Heritage Action supports the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (H.R. 7521) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

As long as TikTok continues to operate under the ownership of ByteDance in the United States, it enables a foreign adversary to collect information on U.S. citizens and strengthens China’s ability to exploit Americans. TikTok’s proven national security threats cannot be addressed while ByteDance—a Chinese company answerable by law to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chinese intelligence services—remains its owner. Worse, with 63%of teens ages 13 to 17 saying they use TikTok, this foreign influence is targeted at our youth. H.R. 7521 provides immediate protection against the CCP’s relentless surveillance and mal-influence of our citizens through TikTok and proactively addresses the next attempt by a foreign adversary to do the same.

This legislation establishes an important national security standard for social media companies: Don’t be controlled by a foreign adversary. Under the bill, it will be illegal for an application store or web hosting services to distribute and/or host a foreign-adversary-controlled covered application in the U.S. The bill is narrow and explicitly names TikTok, ByteDance, and any subsidiary or successor affiliated with a foreign adversary as a covered application, meaning the language cannot be used to target or censor Americans on any platform. If a successor application is determined to be operated by a company controlled by a foreign adversary (like TikTok is), it must divest within 180 days. If the application is not divested, entities in the United States will be prohibited from distributing and/or hosting the application on their platforms. Importantly, this bill does not put a burden on individual U.S. users, rather, it sets civil penalties for tech companies that violate the prohibition.

The national security concerns posed by TikTok are unique, proven, and outweigh concerns about certain judicial challenges. Chinese officials are embedded in TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and involved in the company’s inner workings. In April 2021, the Chinese government acquired a one percent stake in ByteDance’s main domestic subsidiary and the board seat that came along with it. This action makes at least one of the three board members, Wu Shugang, a card-carrying official of the Chinese government.

TikTok’s CCP links are even more alarming when paired with the invasive data-collection practices that include gathering users’ approximate locations, Internet protocol (IP) addresses, content, contacts, images, microphone access (for “voiceprints”), and other biometric, personally identifiable, or device information. The security of this data collected is extremely vulnerable as a result of deliberately engineered backdoor access for certain CCP-connected individuals to the data. This is not simply about tracking Americans shopping patterns. The CCP has already unleashed an advanced surveillance state on its own people. Americans should not underestimate how this technology could be used against them in international conflict.

Beyond access to data, the CCP’s likely control over TikTok’s algorithm—originally designed using ByteDance’s algorithms and artificial intelligence models—raises founded concerns about the CCP actively manipulating the application’s content. Leaked documents have revealed that TikTok has censored content that exposes the CCP’s genocide against its Uyghur community in the Xinjiang region, videos about Tiananmen Square, and Hong Kong protests. Their censorship does not just extend to content about China. TikTok accounts linked to Chinese state media pushed content to users during the 2022 U.S. midterm that criticized Republican candidates while favoring Democrats. It is not hard to imagine how these techniques could be used during the next U.S. presidential election in 2024. As The Heritage Foundation has written extensively, “If America is to preserve her self-governing republic, especially in the psyches of the next generation, dealing with TikTok and successor platforms is both a strategic and moral imperative.”

This bill prioritizes addressing the uniquely threatening conduct, influence, and structure of TikTok-–not the content posted by Americans that the application hosts.

Members of Congress have a duty to safeguard America’s social fabric and protect citizens from the whims of an adversary nation—especially young people most vulnerable to manipulation. H.R. 7521 represents an important step in limiting the CCP’s growing infiltration and exploitation of Americans. A vote against this measure is a vote in support of continued Chinese surveillance of U.S. citizens.

Heritage Action supports the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (H.R. 7521) and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.