Biden Administration Rejected TikTok's Security Proposal

The Battle Over TikTok: A Clash of Security and Sovereignty

by Faruk Imamovic
Biden Administration Rejected TikTok's Security Proposal
© Getty Images/Dan Kitwood

In 2022, TikTok, the widely popular video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, presented the U.S. government with an extraordinary proposition. In a bid to address national security concerns, the company offered an unprecedented level of control to federal officials over its U.S.

operations. The proposal included allowing the government to pick its board of directors, granting veto power over new hires, and employing a U.S. company to monitor its source code. Most strikingly, TikTok offered the government a kill switch that could shut down the app if it was deemed a threat.

Despite the comprehensive nature of this offer, the Biden administration opted for a more aggressive approach. President Biden signed a law mandating a forced sale of TikTok, potentially leading to its nationwide ban. This decision has sparked a contentious legal battle and raised questions about the government's handling of national security threats posed by foreign-owned tech platforms.

TikTok's Proposal: Project Texas

The proposal, known as Project Texas, was designed to address U.S. security concerns comprehensively. It included a draft national security agreement running over 90 pages, detailing how TikTok's U.S.

operations would be isolated from its Chinese parent company. ByteDance’s global executives would have limited authority over the U.S. subsidiary, and an American board of directors, shaped by federal authorities, would oversee operations.

Additionally, TikTok's U.S. data would be housed on servers operated by Oracle, a Texas-based tech giant trusted by the U.S. military for cloud computing. TikTok went as far as pledging to let the U.S. government dictate hiring rules, ensuring that all new hires would be U.S.

citizens or green-card holders subjected to background checks. The proposal aimed to create a highly monitored and regulated environment to mitigate any potential risks associated with Chinese ownership.

Government's Reluctance and Legal Disputes

However, despite these assurances, the Biden administration rejected the proposal.

The government has not publicly detailed why it found Project Texas insufficient, only stating that the proposal could not adequately address the potential for future data-gathering or propaganda by the Chinese government.

This stance led to the enactment of the forced-sale law, which TikTok and ByteDance have challenged as unconstitutional. Legal experts suggest that the core of the dispute will focus on whether the government adequately considered TikTok's proposal before opting for the drastic measure of a forced sale.

The administration will need to explain in court why Project Texas wasn't a viable solution for national security concerns. Meanwhile, TikTok argues that the law violates the First Amendment by suppressing a platform used by millions of Americans for information and self-expression.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Testifies At U.S. House Hearing© Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

The National Security Debate

The debate over TikTok is emblematic of broader concerns about the influence of foreign-owned tech platforms on U.S.

security and sovereignty. Critics of the government's approach argue that the comprehensive measures proposed by TikTok could have effectively mitigated the risks without necessitating a forced sale. They contend that the administration's decision reflects a lack of faith in regulatory and cybersecurity measures, focusing instead on the fact that the app's owner is Chinese.

Anupam Chander, a Georgetown University law professor, highlights the extraordinary measures TikTok proposed to secure its U.S. operations. He suggests that the government's rejection of these measures indicates a broader issue: a lack of confidence in the ability to regulate technology platforms with foreign ownership.

Chander asserts that the government's approach was more about the ownership than the potential security measures.

Implementation Challenges and Political Maneuvering

The forced-sale law has set a tight deadline for ByteDance to divest TikTok's U.S.

assets. If the company fails to comply, the government could make it illegal to distribute, maintain, or update the app in the United States. This scenario would likely involve private companies such as Apple and Google, which would be required to remove TikTok from their app stores, and Oracle, which would have to cease hosting TikTok's data.

Despite the looming deadline, there is significant skepticism about the national security threat posed by TikTok. Critics, including some within the tech industry, view the government's concerns as exaggerated. The lack of public evidence supporting claims of Chinese government influence over TikTok further complicates the issue.

Calls for declassifying information about TikTok to better educate the public have so far gone unanswered.

Legal Battles and Uncertainties

The legal challenge to the forced-sale law is set to unfold rapidly, with the U.S.

Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handling the case. Both sides have requested an expedited ruling to potentially seek Supreme Court review before the forced-sale deadline. The case's outcome could set a significant precedent for how the U.S.

handles foreign-owned technology companies in the future. As the legal process continues, the debate over TikTok underscores the complexities of balancing national security with the global nature of technology. The Biden administration's decision to reject TikTok's comprehensive security proposal in favor of a forced sale reflects a broader struggle to navigate these challenges.

The coming months will be crucial in determining the future of TikTok in the U.S. and the broader implications for tech policy and national security.