A leaked draft of TikTok’s U.S. government agreement shows unprecedented federal oversight

By 08/22/2023
A leaked draft of TikTok’s U.S. government agreement shows unprecedented federal oversight

As TikTok continues to seek a truce with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the general public is getting a rare look into the negotiations. Forbes has obtained a draft of TikTok’s CFIUS agreement, and if the details of that document are accurate, the pact would give the U.S. government unprecedented influence over TikTok’s data, policies, and operations.

The 100-page draft was written in the summer of 2022, which means that it predates many of the political battles that have defined TikTok’s relationship with U.S. officials in 2023. Calls for a nationwide TikTok ban and other complications may have changed the nature of the app’s CFIUS negotiations, but even in the year-old document, it’s clear that Washington lawmakers want to keep TikTok on a short leash.

According to Forbes, the drafted agreement would let federal regulators examine TikTok’s American facilities, oversee the app’s U.S. terms of service, and veto any new hires on local data security teams. Some of those powers are described as typical inclusions in CFIUS agreements, but other parts of the deal are unique. TikTok would be subject to third-party oversight from multiple parties, including an executive committee that would have the authority to dictate security-related policy decisions in the U.S.


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Forbes characterized the draft as a work in progress, with TikTok officials lobbying for codified checks on Washington’s power. If the U.S. government is able to unilaterally change TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, for example, questions of free speech could enter the conversation. TikTok is also looking to prevent sudden changes to the agreement, which could jeopardize its relationships with advertisers and ecommerce partners.

“In every case the Committee reviews, CFIUS takes all necessary actions within its authority to safeguard national security and will not resolve any transaction unless it determines there are no unresolved national security concerns,” reads a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department. The Treasury chairs the CFIUS committee.

A TikTok spokesperson offered Forbes a statement as well. “As has been widely reported, we’ve been working with CFIUS for well over a year to implement a national security agreement and have invested significant resources in implementing a firewall to isolate U.S. user data,” the statement reads. “Today, all new protected U.S. user data is stored in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in the U.S. with tightly controlled and monitored gateways. We are doing more than any peer company to safeguard U.S. national security interests.”

For a while, it seemed as if TikTok would be forced to accept onerous regulations in order to secure continued U.S. operations. Recent events, however, have suggested that the ByteDance-owned app might be able to wait out Washington. The RESTRICT Act, once put forth as a hardline response to TikTok’s data security issues, may need to be softened before it passes muster.

Meanwhile, a series of court cases in Montana are challenging the constitutionality of that state’s TikTok ban. If the courts rule that Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen does not have the authority to enforce Governor Greg Gianforte‘s law, it will be a big win for TikTok — and a sign that the app’s CFIUS agreement may require some more edits.

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