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What a TikTok ban would mean for America's defense of an open Internet| GuyWhoKnowsThings

For decades, the United States has configured itself as the champion of an open internet, arguing that the web should be largely unregulated and that digital data should flow around the world unhindered by borders. The government has argued against Internet censorship abroad and even funded software that allows people in autocratic states to bypass online content restrictions.

Now that reputation could be affected.

The House is expected to again try to push legislation to force the sale of TikTok by its Chinese owner, ByteDance, or institute a first-of-its-kind ban on the app in the United States, this time including it in a Aid package for Israel and Ukraine.. It is expected to be similar to a standalone measure that passed the House last month with bipartisan support, the most significant step yet taken by Congress to force the sale of a foreign-owned app the size of TikTok.

Digital rights groups and others around the world have taken notice and raised the question of how the measures against TikTok contradict the United States' arguments for an open Internet.

A Russian opposition blogger, Alexander Gorbunov, posted on social media last month that Russia could use the move to shut down services like YouTube. And digital rights advocates around the world are expressing fears of a domino effect, with the United States providing cover for authoritarians who want to censor the Internet.

In March, the Chinese government, which controls the internet in its country, said the United States had “one way of saying and doing things about the United States, and another way of saying and doing things about other countries,” citing the TikTok legislation.

By attacking TikTok, a social media platform with 170 million American users, many of whom share dance moves, weigh in on politics and sell products, the United States can undermine its decades-long efforts to promote a free and open Internet governed by international organizations. not individual countries, digital rights advocates said. In recent years, the network has become fragmented as the authoritarian governments of China and Russia increasingly encroach on their citizens' Internet access.

“It would diminish the United States' standing in promoting Internet freedom,” said Juan Carlos Lara, executive director of Derechos Digitales, a Latin American digital rights group based in Chile. “It definitely wouldn't strengthen your own argument in favor of promoting a free, secure, stable and interoperable Internet.”

The American vision of an open Internet dates back to the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton said internet It should be a “global free trade zone.” Administrations, including the Biden White House, have reached agreements to keep data flowing between the United States and Europe. And the State Department has condemned censorship, including Nigeria and Pakistan's restrictions on access to Twitter, now known as X.

Now, fueled by concerns that TikTok could send data to the Chinese government or act as a conduit for Beijing's propaganda, legislation passed by the House last month would require ByteDance to sell TikTok to a buyer that satisfies the US government. USA within six months. If the company does not find a buyer, app stores must stop offering the app for download and web hosting companies cannot host TikTok. (It remains to be seen whether the version of the measure that is likely to appear alongside the relief package will include changes to the deadline or other facets of the bill.)

The passage of the House bill in March, currently under consideration in the Senate, caused global distress.

Gorbunov, a Russian blogger who goes by the name Stalin_Gulag, wrote on the social media service Telegram in March that a ban on TikTok could result in greater censorship in his country.

“I don't think it's necessary to state out loud the obvious, which is that when Russia blocks YouTube, they will justify it precisely with this decision of the United States,” Gorbunov said.

Mishi Choudhary, a lawyer who founded the New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center, said the Indian government would also use a US ban to justify new repressive measures. He has already implemented Internet shutdowns, he said, and TikTok banned in 2020 due to border conflicts with China.

“This gives them good reason to trust their past actions, but also encourages them to take similar actions in the future,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Lara, of Digital Rights, noted that countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua had already passed laws giving the government more control over online content. He said greater government control of the Internet was a “tempting idea” that “really risks materializing if something like this is seen in places like the United States.”

A fire sale or ban on TikTok could also make it harder for the U.S. government to ask other countries to adopt an Internet governed by international organizations, digital rights experts said.

China in particular has built a system of Internet censorship, arguing that individual countries should have more power to set the network's rules. Beijing blocks access to products made by American tech giants, including Google's search engine, Facebook and Instagram.

Other countries have followed Beijing's example. Russia blocks online content. India and Türkiye have measures that allow them to demand that social media posts be removed.

Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the TikTok measure were to become law, the “hypocrisy would be inescapable and the dividends for China would be enormous.” The ACLU has been one of the most prominent groups opposing the TikTok legislation.

Any ban or sale of TikTok in the United States would require officials to explain why the move was different from other countries' efforts to restrict the flow of digital data within their borders, said Peter Harrell, previously senior director of international economics and competitiveness. of the National Security Council in the country. Biden administration. The United States has pushed for data to flow between countries without obstacles.

“I'm all for taking action on TikTok here, but we're going to have to scramble to catch up on the diplomatic front,” Harrell said.

Still, other supporters of the legislation rejected the idea that action against TikTok would undermine US internet policy.

An aide to the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the legislation, argued that the measure would benefit internet freedom by reducing the risk of China's influence over TikTok.

In a statement, a National Security Council spokesperson said the United States “remains committed to an open Internet.”

“There is no tension between that commitment and our responsibility to safeguard our national security by preventing specific threats posed by certain adversaries that could put Americans' personal information at risk and manipulate American speech,” the spokesperson added.

Anton Troyanovski contributed reporting from Berlin; and Meaghan Tobin contributed reporting from Taipei, Taiwan.

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