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Lack of federal privacy law looms over TikTok fight

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Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Lawmakers couldn't help but point out that comprehensive data privacy legislation is going nowhere on the Hill as the TikTok bill cleared the House at breakneck speed on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The bill to force Beijing-based ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S. doesn't address the bigger issue that there's no federal law governing the collection and use of personal data.

  • Companies are also grappling with a patchwork of state privacy laws that pose regulatory burdens.

State of play: House members overwhelmingly voted in favor of the TikTok bill, but leading comprehensive data privacy legislation has been MIA.

  • House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone have teamed up on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, but it hasn't been reintroduced since 2022.
  • Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said he thinks his TikTok bill co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Gallagher, is "on the same page" about the issue as he is: "There has to be comprehensive data privacy. I think this is the first step in kind of dealing with a much bigger problem of social media."

What they're saying: "It's shocking to me that we voted in a couple of days to ban TikTok, but we couldn't for years to actually protect America's privacy or to protect the kids on social media," Rep. Ro Khanna, who voted against the TikTok bill, told Axios.

  • "This was rushed and I would rather we take a comprehensive approach."
  • Rep. Maxwell Frost: "We have to work in a way where we're protecting Americans' data from foreign adversaries and domestic companies."

CMR pointed to her other bill with Pallone to prohibit data brokers from selling Americans' personal information to adversaries, which is set to get a vote next week.

  • "We are moving forward on multiple fronts right now to make sure that we're protecting America from these foreign adversaries and also protecting Americans data online."

Flashback: ADPPA's demise in 2022 was in large part because of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to the bill potentially undermining data privacy protections in her home state of California.

  • On Wednesday, Pelosi got behind the TikTok bill, saying: "This is not an attempt to ban TikTok. It's an attempt to make TikTok better."

What's next: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would review the TikTok legislation.

  • The bill's next stop would be the Senate Commerce Committee, Gallagher said, where changes could be made.
  • Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, who had their own legislation to crack down on TikTok, endorsed the House bill after today's vote.

But any attempt to fast track the legislation in the upper chamber would likely be blocked by Sen. Rand Paul, who views the legislation as unconstitutional.

  • Senators could force their colleagues' hands by tacking it onto must-pass legislation.
  • Krishnamoorthi said the White House's input "was crucial because they gave us a lot of the technical assistance to actually make it implementable right away," but before that can happen it will likely go to court.
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