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  • After heightened concerns around TikTok’s influence, Congress’s focus shifts towards artificial intelligence.
  • TikTok continues to expand its US operations, despite past attempts to curtail them.
  • Legislative efforts are underway to regulate foreign-owned tech, including a TikTok-specific ban under consideration in Montana.

Although TikTok was once the primary focus of US Congress, concerns about the Chinese-owned app have subsided in recent months, as the attention of lawmakers has turned toward artificial intelligence (AI). Meanwhile, TikTok continues to grow its influence within the US economy and culture, leading some to fear that opportunities to curtail its reach may have been missed.

Congressional Shift of Focus

Earlier this year, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were deeply concerned about the security implications of TikTok, viewing it as a significant national security threat. However, this worry has notably diminished since a March hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Chew. Factors such as raising the US debt limit and House Republicans’ investigations into President Joe Biden’s administration and family have redirected their focus. Furthermore, AI has emerged as the predominant topic of interest on Capitol Hill, according to Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some members of Congress express concern that the window of opportunity to enforce significant restrictions on TikTok may have been missed. Meanwhile, the app continues to fortify its position in the US, boasting a user base of 150 million and expanding its e-commerce services. Skepticism remains regarding TikTok’s promise to separate its US data and operations from its Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance.

Regulatory Challenges

Any legislation aiming to explicitly ban TikTok would likely face constitutional challenges due to violations of free speech protections and the potential for targeting a specific company. Broad attempts to regulate foreign-owned technology have faced opposition from Republicans wary of increasing government power. Despite these hurdles, a TikTok-only ban is currently being tested in Montana, where the company is resisting a new law prohibiting the app’s availability to state residents.

The Biden administration’s actions regarding TikTok remain a subject of debate. Despite House Republicans’ allegations of the administration delaying a CFIUS decision on TikTok’s data security proposal, public discussion by officials has been limited. Meanwhile, as the Secretary of State Antony Blinken seeks to renew communication channels with China, the future approach to regulating foreign-owned technology remains uncertain.