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Senate Intelligence Chair aims to declassify aspects of ‘powerful’ TikTok briefing

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he is trying to get information declassified about risks posed by TikTok that were shared in a briefing to senators Wednesday to better inform the public.

His aim to declassify some of the information is part of his broader push for the Senate to pass a bill that would force TikTok’s Chinese-based parent company ByteDance to sell the app or face a ban in the U.S., following a broad bipartisan vote for the legislation in the House last week.

“We just had a very powerful briefing,” Warner told reporters Wednesday, following a classified briefing for senators with members of the intelligence community.

“I’d like to get as much of the content declassified as possible,” he added. “But I think there was a reason why when this brief was given on the House side, to the Energy and Commerce Committee, afterwards they voted 50 to nothing to move the legislation forward,” he added.

The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act moved swiftly through the House. It advanced out of the House committee in a unanimous vote earlier this month just days after it was first introduced, and less than a week later it passed in a 352-65 vote on the floor.

That vote happened after TikTok led a campaign urging users to call lawmakers to block the bill, calling it a “TikTok shutdown.”

Warner, along with Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other supporters of the legislation, have said it is not an outright ban since it gives ByteDance a roughly five-month window to divest TikTok and allow the app to continue running in the U.S.

Warner said it is his and Rubio’s “top priority” to make clear to the public, especially the roughly 170 million TikTok users in the U.S., that the bill isn’t about taking away the “creativity” or ability to make money from using the platform.

“It’s about the ability to make sure this creativity that’s happening on this platform can’t be manipulated. To make sure this creativity that’s happening on this platform can’t be manipulated by the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner said.

“I’ve yet to hear even the most fervent TikTok advocates say, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got to make sure the company stays controlled by China,’” he added.

Rubio said the information in the briefing doesn’t need to be declassified to convince the public of the threats posed by TikTok being owned by a Chinese-based company.

Supporters of the bill have centered their push around national security threats they said are posed by the ability of the Chinese government to either get personal data about American users or push certain content to American users.

“You don’t need to declassify anything to set those facts, and the facts are as simple as that. As long as ByteDance owns TikTok, that is a tool and a weapon that can be used against America in a time of conflict,” Rubio said.

The bill is not moving as quickly in the Senate as it did in the House. Warner said he doesn’t have the “foggiest idea” when a vote may be held.

“They moved obviously very aggressively and quickly in the House. I’m not sure the Senate has that same kind of timetable,” he said.

The bill may face a tougher challenge in the Senate where it will need to pass a 60-vote threshold, and it’s already facing challenges on both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last week indicated he would not vote for the bill and that the Senate should instead be focused on bipartisan bills that would require major social media platforms, including TikTok, to mitigate risks to young people online and change how they collect and use minors’ data.

The senator did not seem swayed after Wednesday’s briefing.

“That has to be put front and center. That is a greater threat to Americans right now and their families. The threat that social media is posing to teenagers and children across our country. There’s a mental health crisis,” he said.

TikTok is a “part of” that problem, but so are American-based social media companies, like Meta-operated Facebook and Instagram.

Al Weaver contributed.

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