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TikTok's CEO faces a House panel on whether the app is a threat to national security

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Should the Biden administration ban TikTok in the U.S.? That's what he's threatening if TikTok isn't sold by its Chinese parent company. The social media giant's CEO will face lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee today. Ahead of the hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Chew posted a video announcing the platform now has over 150 million monthly active users right here in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHOU ZI CHEW: I'll be testifying before Congress to share all that we're doing to protect Americans using the app and deliver on our mission to inspire creativity and to bring joy.

FADEL: Now, the concern, some experts say, is that because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, it could share private data of Americans with China's government or even try to influence American politics. Congresswoman Lori Trahan is a member of the House panel that will question the TikTok CEO later this morning, and she joins us now. Good morning.

LORI TRAHAN: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what do you want to hear from Shou this morning to quell concerns about national security?

TRAHAN: Yeah, so I met with Mr. Chew a couple of weeks ago in advance of today's hearing, and he said something during that meeting that really struck me. He said that TikTok is operating from a place where it has basically no trust and that he wanted to be open and transparent about the problems that exist on his platform and how to fix them. Mind you, that's not something that tech CEOs are typically looking to do when they testify before Congress. But today is an opportunity for Mr. Chew to walk the walk.

He has a chance to look members of Congress in the eye and answer serious questions about why we should be confident that the steps he's taking are sufficient to protect Americans' data. And that's going to be very important. But it's my hope, as a mom of two young girls who are just getting to that social media age, that he goes well beyond that to talk about the serious issues the company faces when it comes to safeguarding children and the teens who use TikTok.

FADEL: In your view, does TikTok pose a national security threat?

TRAHAN: Look, I think that's - you know, ultimately, I think that's a decision on whether to ban TikTok or force a sale. It's going to come down to the administration. And frankly, the hearing today will be an important input on that. The administration's been in active negotiations with the company for a long time. If the administration decides to move forward with the ban or forcing a sale, they're going to have to explain in detail why the options that TikTok proposed were insufficient and why there was nothing left to negotiate. But what can't happen is some sort of action on TikTok, whatever that may be, and then folks in Washington declaring victory in the fight to rein in the abuses of dominant tech companies because a social media landscape without TikTok isn't any safer for our data. And it certainly isn't safer for our children, who have been viewed as nothing more than the next opportunity to grow tech companies' profits for a very long time.

FADEL: So is TikTok facing unfair - an unfair amount of scrutiny? I mean, there hasn't actually been any evidence that they share data with China's government. I mean, there was this one high-profile incident of a ByteDance employee, the company that owns TikTok, accessing American user information inappropriately. But there's been no evidence of this other type of conduct that would hurt national security.

TRAHAN: Well, I think there are real national security concerns when it comes to TikTok. It's a company that's based in China and subject to laws that could allow the Chinese government to force TikTok to hand over users' data. That's serious. And I don't think there's a single person who listened to the director of the FBI say that the app has some real problems and wrote that off as hyperbole.

FADEL: Yeah.

TRAHAN: But it would be a mistake to focus solely on the national security threat posed by a company like TikTok without also...

FADEL: But on that issue...

TRAHAN: Yeah.

FADEL: ...Would you say the proposal by TikTok to store American data here - is that enough?

TRAHAN: We - you know, that warrants a lot more questioning. Exactly how that happens - how do you wall off data when posts are shared internationally? How does that work? How does a company that - or the storage of data on a server - how does that actually instill confidence that Americans' data will be protected and that it won't have - or that the Chinese government won't be able to access it? Those are the questions that really need to be answered and frankly, you know, the administration has to contend with.

FADEL: Democrat Lori Trahan, who represents Massachusetts' third district, thank you.

TRAHAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.