Rep. Earl Carter, R-Ga., questions TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew during a Congressional hearing on the platform’s consumer privacy and data security practices, March 23, 2023. | Jose Luis Magana / AP
Originally published in the People’s World on April 3, 2023
Ten years ago, Edward Snowden told the whole world the truth about the U.S. global surveillance programs. If Congress cares about our digital privacy as some members are claiming, it should first begin by investigating the surveillance policies of its own U.S. agencies. The campaign against TikTok is a fear-mongering tactic to wage war on China.
In 2020, the FBI used social media to monitor racial justice protesters who were targeted for arrests. For example, activist Mike Avery was arrested after posting about protests on Facebook, and his charges were dropped without explanation a few weeks later. An FBI official was so frustrated with the extensive social media surveillance that he told The Intercept, “Man, I don’t even know what’s legal anymore.”
The dissonance between accusing TikTok of security concerns and working with other companies to invade people’s privacy rings loudly in our ears. Social media has long been a tool used by federal agencies to target individuals and communities designated as “threat.”
The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have monitored the social media activities of immigrant rights activists for years. The State Department used social media screening to discriminate against the Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities under the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban.”
It was only last year that the post-9/11 NSA phone surveillance program was reported to have finally been shut down. Major telecom companies like Verizon gave the government access to hundreds of millions of calls and texts. Dataminr, a startup Twitter partner, provided police with data about BLM protests. One focus on “potential gang members” targeted Black and Latinx people, including school-aged children.
Meta’s (Facebook’s) subsidiary WhatsApp was reportedly used by the Saudi government to hack journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s phone before he was abducted and murdered. Meanwhile, Meta itself used a VPN to spy on users’ smartphones for market research in exchange for bribes. WhatsApp is not banned on government devices, but TikTok should be?
If our lawmakers are concerned about protecting digital privacy, then Congress should start by investigating American federal agencies. Unlike China, as well as other Western countries, such as many EU member-states, the U.S. does not have any digital privacy laws on the federal level.
The U.S. could cooperate with China to better ensure people’s privacy is protected, instead of driving fear to target one single social media platform.
The ongoing effort to investigate and ban TikTok is not about our privacy, but about fueling more aggression against China. Fear-mongering about China has also caused the rise of anti-Asian racism in the U.S.
In banning TikTok, the US is projecting its invasive policies onto another government. Warmongers are using the issue to create paranoia and justify even more aggression towards China.
It is not a coincidence that these recent bans have come about shortly after the so-called Chinese “spy balloon” was shot down over the U.S. Privacy concerns are being used to wage war on China. The U.S. should focus on passing federal data privacy laws instead of targeting one app.
Double standards and warmongering against China need to stop. China is not our enemy.
Wei Yu is coordinator of the “China is Not Our Enemy” campaign at the anti-war organization CODEPINK. Born in Tianjin, China, she has lived in the U.S. since her high school years. Wei is passionate about anti-imperialism and peace-building work and enjoys experimenting with vegan recipes in her free time.
Nuvpreet Kalra is a social media intern at the anti-war organization CODEPINK. She is studying towards a Masters degree in Internet Equalities at University of the Arts London. Her main organizing interests are anti-imperialism, de-colonialism, anti-racism, digital oppression, and workers’ rights.
Melissa Garriga is the media relations manager at the anti-war organization CODEPINK. Born and raised in a Mississippi coastal town where the local economy is and remains dependent on government contracts to build navy warships, Melissa witnessed early on how the war economy exploited poor and working-class people in the United States in order to kill and injure poor and working-class people abroad. She previously worked for the Poor People’s Campaign.