The US government should ban TikTok rather than come to a national security agreement with the social media app that might allow it to continue operating in the United States, according to Brendan Carr, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.
A string of news reports this year about TikTok’s handling of US user data has left Carr with “little confidence there’s a path forward,” he told CNN in a phone interview Tuesday. “Perhaps the deal CFIUS ends up cutting is an amazing, airtight deal, but at this point I have a very, very difficult time looking at TikTok’s conduct thinking we’re going to cut a technical construct that they’re not going to find a way around.”
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency government body charged with reviewing business deals involving foreign ownership, has spent months negotiating with TikTok on a proposal to resolve concerns that Chinese government authorities could seek to gain access to the data TikTok holds on US citizens. This year the company said it had migrated its US user data to servers run by Oracle, but concerns have persisted over whether China-based employees of TikTok or its parent, ByteDance, will still be able to access that information. Those bipartisan fears were again raised in September, when under pressure from US lawmakers, TikTok declined to commit to cutting off data flows to China.
“Commissioner Carr has no role in or direct knowledge of the confidential discussions with the US government related to TikTok and is not in a position to discuss what those negotiations entail” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. “We are confident that we are on a path to reaching an agreement with the US government that will satisfy all reasonable national security concerns.”
Carr, who spoke to CNN from Taiwan during a first-ever visit by an FCC official to that country, said he has not met with CFIUS member agencies or the White House to specifically raise the issue, though he added the topic could have arisen incidentally amid other routine discussions.
Carr acknowledged that as an FCC official, his own capacity to regulate TikTok is limited; CFIUS, the Commerce Department or the Federal Trade Commission may have greater legal authority over the company, he said.
Still, Carr said his call for a TikTok ban reflects a “natural progression in my thinking” and is informed by his own agency’s work to limit China’s influence in US telecommunications networks. The FCC has taken numerous steps to block or ban Chinese-affiliated telecom companies from selling equipment or services in the United States, over allegations that those companies could also be compelled to give up the data they hold on US communications to the Chinese government.
“For me, this is taking what I’ve learned in the Huawei, ZTE, China Mobile context, where we’re looking at possibly nefarious data flows, and bringing it to bear in terms of this issue,” Carr said.