The U.S. government, through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), proposed a draft agreement last summer that would grant it extensive access and control over TikTok's operations. This move comes as an attempt to address national security concerns related to the Chinese-owned app. A draft agreement, sourced from Forbes, outlines the following potential powers for the U.S. government:
- Inspect TikTok's U.S. facilities, records, equipment, and servers with minimal notice.
- Control changes to TikTok's U.S. terms of service, moderation, and privacy policies.
- Veto hiring decisions for executives involved in TikTok's U.S. Data Security organization.
- Mandate audits, assessments, and reports on TikTok's U.S. security functions.
- Potentially halt TikTok's operations in the U.S. under certain circumstances.
The draft agreement is part of a broader narrative where TikTok has faced scrutiny and potential bans in various countries, including the U.S. and India, over concerns related to data privacy and national security.
Third-Party Oversight and Internal Changes
The draft suggests that TikTok's U.S. operations would be under the scrutiny of various independent investigative bodies, including third-party monitors, auditors, and source code inspectors. Additionally, the agreement would necessitate the exclusion of ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, from specific security-related decisions. Instead, an “executive security committee” would be established, operating independently from ByteDance, prioritizing U.S. national security.
Concerns Over Potential Censorship
Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU's National Security Project, expressed concerns to Forbes about the implications of such an agreement. He stated, “If this agreement would give the U.S. government the power to dictate what content TikTok can or cannot carry, or how it makes those decisions, that would raise serious concerns about the government's ability to censor or distort what people are saying or watching on TikTok.”
While the draft agreement offers a glimpse into the ongoing negotiations between ByteDance and the U.S. government, the final terms remain uncertain. The draft has sparked debates over the balance between national security and potential government overreach. ByteDance's attorneys have raised objections to certain clauses, especially those allowing the U.S. government to unilaterally modify parts of the agreement in the future.
TikTok, while not commenting directly on the draft, emphasized its commitment to working with the U.S. government to find a resolution. The company highlighted its efforts to safeguard U.S. national security interests, including storing U.S. user data in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.
If the draft agreement is finalized, TikTok would be subjected to a higher degree of government oversight than its domestic counterparts, such as Facebook and Twitter. This has raised questions about the fairness and implications of such differential treatment.