Republican Senator Rand Paul blocks bid to ban TikTok

U.S. Republican Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday blocked a bid to fast-track a ban on the popular social media app TikTok, which more than 150 million Americans use, citing concerns about free speech and uneven treatment of social media companies.

"I think we should beware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties," Paul said on the Senate floor. "Every accusation of data gathering that has been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies."

"If Republicans want to continuously lose elections for a generation they should pass this bill to ban TikTok -- a social media app used by 150 million people, primarily young Americans," Paul said on the Senate floor. 

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress last week and faced tough questions about national security concerns over the ByteDance-owned app.

Badgered by committee members, Chew repeatedly denied that the app shares data or has connections with the Communist Party of China, adding that TikTok remains a platform for free expression that cannot be manipulated by any government and allows for third-party independent oversight.

The app faces a potential ban as U.S. lawmakers have been pursuing a new law that bolsters the government's authority to regulate speech. However, a small but growing number of Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns, citing free speech and other issues and have objected to legislation targeting TikTok as overly broad.

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a TikTok video on Friday opposed a TikTok ban, calling it "unprecedented" and said Congress has not gotten classified TikTok briefings. "It just doesn't feel right to me," she said.

Last week, three Democrats in the House of Representatives opposed a TikTok ban, as do free speech groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration demanded TikTok's Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a U.S. ban. Then President Donald Trump's attempts in 2020 to ban TikTok were blocked by U.S. courts. TikTok says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.

(Cover: Senator Rand Paul talks with journalists as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after delivering a speech about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on the Senate floor on June 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. /CFP)

(With input from Reuters)

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