June 9, 2023

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) clashed Wednesday afternoon over the future of TikTok in a spirited exchange on the Senate floor that shows disagreements over how to regulate the controversial app cross party lines in Congress.  

The two conservative stars butted heads when Hawley attempted to gain unanimous consent to pass his bill to prohibit TikTok from operating in the United States and ban commercial activity with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.  

Paul immediately slapped down Hawley’s request.  

“There are two main reasons why we might not want to do this. The one would be the First Amendment to the Constitution. Speech is protected whether you like it or not. The second reason would be that the Constitution actually prohibits bills of attainder,” he said before objecting.   

“This fails on two egregious points, pretty obvious points. I think we ought to think about that,” he added.  

The Constitution prohibits bills of attainder, which allow the government to punish individuals or groups without a trial.  

Paul suggested that proponents of banning TikTok are peddling fear and argued that domestic Big Tech companies also collect vast amounts of data from American users without much scrutiny or interference from the federal government.  

“I think we should be aware of those who peddle fear. I think we should be aware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties,” he said. “Every accusation of data-gathering that’s been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic Big Tech companies.”  

Hawley parried Paul’s attack by declaring: “I have never before heard on this floor a defense of the right to spy.” 

“I didn’t realize that the First Amendment contained a right to espionage. The senator from Kentucky mentions the Bill of Rights. I must have missed the right of the Chinese government to spy on Americans in our Bill of Rights,” he said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Because that’s what we’re talking about here.” 

Hawley set the stage for his request to approve a TikTok ban by unanimous consent by ticking through the company’s alleged business practices, saying TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew confirmed some of the allegations when he testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. 

“We confirmed from the testimony of the TikTok CEO that TikTok has the ability to track American’s data, to track Americans’ location, to track Americans’ personal lives whether they want it to or not,” Hawley said.  

“It’s not just the videos that you watch. It’s the key strokes that you enter and not just while you are on the app. No, it tracks your key strokes all the time,” he said.  

Paul, however, argued that it should be up to individual Americans whether or not to use TikTok and that the federal government shouldn’t decide for them.  

“In a free country, I don’t have the right to tell The New York Times to publish by op-ed or YouTube to publish my speech,” he said.  

He said if people don’t like how TikTok or other social media platforms handle their data, “quit using them.” 

“But don’t disenfranchise 150 million Americans who are using a social media app and just say it’s no big deal,” he said.  

Hawley had more success in December when he received unanimous consent to pass his bill to ban TikTok on government devices. President Biden signed it into law later that month.  

Hawley’s bill to direct the president to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act within 30 days to block and prohibit transactions with TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is one of several proposals addressing public concern over the app.  

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) have introduced the Restrict Act, which requires the Commerce Department to identify, deter and prohibit transactions in information communications technology services that pose a risk to national security or public safety.  

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