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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.) blocked a move Wednesday by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to pass his bill that would ban the embattled social media platform TikTok in the U.S., saying the legislation violated First Amendment rights.
“The company has bent over backwards to work with our government,” Paul said on the Senate floor.
“I will continue to defend the First Amendment, and those who believe that the First Amendment doesn’t protect this speech are in the wrong,” he said.
Paul objected to Hawley’s motion to have the bill pass the Senate by unanimous consent and also objected to scheduling a roll call vote for the legislation.
Hawley vowed to continue to try and get a TikTok ban passed.
“The truth will carry the day and we will continue the fight,” Hawley said in response to Paul’s objections.
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The debate over whether to ban TikTok has waged on for months and picked up new steam when the company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress last week.
Officials have flagged concerns over the connection of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, with the Chinese government.
Lawmakers say the dynamic between ByteDance, which is owned in part by Chinese founders, and the Chinese government, put U.S. user data at risk.
TikTok has maintained that it has never handed over data to the Chinese government and has pledged that it never will. But the testimony from Chew last week did little to settle the angst in Congress.
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The debate Wednesday often veered into a lively exchange of views.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came to the defense of Hawley, pushing back against Paul’s argument that the bill would violate free speech.
“This is not a First Amendment issue, because we’re not trying to ban booty videos,” Rubio said. “This is not about the content of the videos that are online. It is about the dangers to the national security that are presented by the way that this company functions.”
Rubio argued that ByteDance’s connection to China means the data of users is at the hands of the Chinese government.
“I don’t care who owns ByteDance … ByteDance operates out of China,” Rubio said. “There are no such things as private companies in China. They do not exist.”
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Paul fired back at both Harley and Rubio, saying he was “unlikely to take First Amendment advice from someone who believes that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the communist party.”
“Everything that’s been said about, oh this is a channel and a funnel to the Chinese government, these are all conjecture,” Paul said.
A bipartisan bill to allow the Commerce Department to regulate and ultimately ban foreign technologies such as TikTok has also been introduced, and picked up the support of the White House, according to the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
First Amendment concerns enter TikTok debate
Paul said giving the government the power to ban speech sets a precedent that is even more dangerous than the potential threat posed by TikTok.
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“Which is more dangerous: Videos of teenagers dancing or the precedent of the U.S. government banning speech?” Paul saud. “For me it’s an easy answer. I will defend the Bill of Rights against all comers, even if, need be, from members of my own party.”