US House seeks to boost DOJ defense of TikTok crackdown law

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows U.S. flag and TikTok logo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. House committee on Thursday voted to release a transcript of a closed-door hearing in March on threats posed by TikTok to the Justice Department in its defense of a law that seeks to force its Chinese owner to divest the popular app's U.S. assets.

China-based ByteDance, TikTok and a group of TikTok creators have filed lawsuits to block the law signed by President Joe Biden in April that could ban the app used by 170 million Americans if the company fails to divest by Jan. 19, 2025.

The Justice Department asked the Energy and Commerce Committee to review a copy of the transcript from the classified March hearing "to assist in their litigation," said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the committee chair. She added that lawmakers at the briefing "heard from the intelligence community about the dangers posed by applications, like TikTok, that are controlled by foreign adversaries who are determined to exploit and weaponize Americans’ data."

A committee spokesperson said lawmakers have no plans to make the transcript public. The Justice Department declined to comment.

Rodgers said that since the law was passed China has made clear it has no intention of giving up control over applications like TikTok. She said this is a further indication that China "is using these applications in nefarious ways against the American people.”

TikTok, which declined comment, previously said "the process for this legislation was intentionally conducted in secret and rushed through because the bill's authors knew it was the only way they could push it forward."

A U.S. court will hold oral arguments on Sept. 16 on the legal challenges. The Justice Department is set to respond to the lawsuits by July 26.

At the March classified hearing, the Justice Department said it would be in a stronger legal position if lawmakers ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok, according to a document first reported by Reuters.

The briefing included a one-page unclassified document seen by Reuters that said TikTok poses "key national security concerns" because it "collects tremendous amounts of sensitive data" and added Chinese ownership puts "TikTok's American users at risk." The document added: "Working through ByteDance, the PRC (People's Republic of China) could use TikTok to access data on millions of U.S. users and control the software on millions of U.S. devices."

A prior attempt to ban TikTok by then President Donald Trump in late 2020 was blocked by the courts.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Editing by Franklin Paul and Matthew Lewis)