How forcing TikTok to completely separate its U.S. operations could actually undermine national security

By | March 26, 2023

Yoel Roth writes:

Back in August 2020, the Trump White House issued an executive order purporting to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns. The ban ultimately went nowhere — but not before TikTok and Oracle cobbled together “Project Texas” as an attempt to appease regulators’ privacy worries and keep TikTok available in the United States.

The basic gist of Project Texas, Lawfare reported earlier this year, is that TikTok will stand up a new US-based subsidiary named TikTok US Data Security (USDS) to house business functions that touch US user data, or which could be sensitive from a national security perspective (like content moderation functions impacting Americans). Along with giving the government the right to conduct background checks on potential USDS hires (and block those hires from happening!), TikTok committed as part of Project Texas to host all US-based traffic on Oracle-managed servers, with strict and audited limits on how US data could travel to non-US-based parts of the company’s infrastructure. Needless to say, Oracle stands to make a considerable amount of money from the whole arrangement.

Yesterday’s appearance by TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew before the House Energy and Commerce Committee shows that even those steps, and the $1.5 billion TikTok are reported to have spent standing up USDS, may prove to be inadequate to stave off the pitchfork mob calling for TikTok’s expulsion from the US. The chair of the committee, Representative Cathy Rodgers of Washington, didn’t mince words in her opening statement, telling Chew, “Your platform should be banned.”

Even as I believe at least some of the single-minded focus on TikTok is a moral panic driven by xenophobia, not hard evidence, I share many of the national security concerns raised about the app. [Continue reading…]