Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

(AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

WASHINGTON: Legislation that could ban TikTok in the US if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake won a major boost late Wednesday when House Republican leaders included it in a package of bills that would send aid to Ukraine and Israel. The bill could be law as soon as next week if Congress moves quickly.
The TikTok legislation, which passed the House in March and has widespread support in both chambers, was included in the House package as leaders have worked to win votes for the foreign aid bills and after negotiations with the Senate over how long the Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd. would have to sell its stake in the app to continue operating in the United States. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation if it reaches his desk.
The new version of the legislation won a key endorsement from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, who said in a statement that she had successfully pushed to extend the period from six months to a year to give the company enough time to find a buyer. While the original bill had a six-month deadline for TikTok to be sold, the revised legislation would give nine months and a possible three-month extension if a sale was in progress.
“Extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done,” said Cantwell, who had previously expressed doubts about the bill. ”I support this updated legislation.”
If Congress passes the TikTok bill, it would be an extraordinary and unusual moment in which both parties unite against one company – something lawmakers are usually reluctant to do. But the popular social media app has prompted widespread outrage on Capitol Hill, where there is bipartisan concern about Chinese threats to the United States and where few members use the platform themselves.
Opponents say they believe the ban would be unconstitutional, and there would be likely court challenges if it passes. There has been aggressive pushback from the company, content creators who make money on the app and some of the platform’s 170 million US users, many of whom are young. In some cases, lawmakers have received profanity-laced calls from users who were prompted by the app to call their representatives in Congress.
To date, the US government has not provided evidence that shows TikTok shared US user data with the Chinese government, or that Chinese authorities have tinkered with the company’s popular algorithm, which influences what Americans see.
Since mid-March, TikTok has spent $5 million on TV ads opposing the legislation, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm. The ads have included a range of content creators, including a nun, extolling the positive impacts of the platform on their lives and arguing a ban would trample on the First Amendment.
TikTok has also spent money on Facebook and Instagram ads that, among other things, talk about investments in data safety. In addition, the company has mounted a lobbying campaign in Washington that included flying in content creators who rely on the platform for income.
Alex Haurek, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement Thursday that “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually.”
Nadya Okamoto, a content creator who has roughly four million followers on TikTok, said she’s been having conversations with other creators who are experiencing “so much anger and anxiety” about the bill and how it’s going to impact their lives. The 26-year-old, whose company “August” sells menstrual products and is known for her advocacy around destigmatizing menstrual periods, makes most of her income from TikTok.
“This is going to have real repercussions,” she said.
Dan Ives, a tech analyst at the financial advisory firm Wedbush Securities, said such a sale would be very complex to carry out, even with an extended timeline.
The platform would come with a hefty price tag that only the biggest tech companies could afford, something that’s likely to raise antitrust concerns. Then, there’s the issue of TikTok’s algorithm, the app’s secret sauce that recommends videos to users. The bill bars ByteDance from controlling TikTok’s algorithm, and a potential sale is likely to face opposition from China, which has been clamping down on exports of recommendation algorithms by Chinese tech companies.
“Buying TikTok without the algorithm would be like buying a Ferrari without the engine,” said Ives.
Some investors, including former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary, have already voiced interest in buying TikTok’s US business. If a sale isn’t approved and the platform does get banned, Ives said it would be a “dream scenario” for Snapchat, Meta and YouTube, which have faced stiff competition from TikTok the past few years.
If the bill does pass, it would be the most significant step Congress has taken in decades to regulate the tech industry. For years Congress has failed to act on legislation that would protect users’ privacy, protect children online, make companies more liable for their content and put loose guardrails around artificial intelligence, among other things.
Still, it is a narrow shot at one company when many lawmakers would like to see broader change.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pushing for years for tech regulation. If the TikTok bill passes, he said, “it will be the first guardrail we put on anything on social media.”
Warner said there are a lot of other things that Congress needs to do, “but you’ve got to start someplace.”
While most lawmakers support the TikTok bill, some have said it would set a dangerous precedent.
“The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X after the House passed it.
Others are defending the app’s loyal users.
“I am a NO on the TikTok bill we are about to vote on,” Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost posted on X before the House vote. At 27, Frost is much younger than most of his colleagues.
“I believe the bill does set TikTok up to be banned,” Frost said. “There are first amendment issues I see with taking away a platform that over 170 million Americans use, and this won’t fix the serious issues we have with data privacy.”
Jenna Leventoff, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, previewed potential First Amendment challenges to the bill.
“Congress cannot take away the rights of over 170 million Americans who use TikTok to express themselves, engage in political advocacy, and access information from around the world,” she said.


CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

Updated 11 sec ago
Follow

CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

WASHINGTON: US intelligence chief Bill Burns is expected to hold talks in Paris with representatives of Israel in a bid to relaunch talks aimed at finding a truce in Gaza, a Western source close to the issue said Friday.
The visit of the CIA chief to the French capital, expected on Friday or Saturday, comes after Israel gave the green light to the resumption of negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for a ceasefire.
Previous talks in Cairo and Doha attended by Qatar and Egypt as mediators for Hamas broke up earlier this month with both Israel and the Palestinian militant group unhappy with the conditions of the other side.
It was not immediately clear if representatives of Qatar or Egypt would be present at the Paris talks.
The New York Times said Burns would meet his Israeli counterpart David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
The US-based Axios news website quoted a source as saying Burns would also meet Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani as well as Barnea.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Axios said Israeli negotiators developed in recent days a “new proposal” to renew the hostage talks which includes “some compromises” in Israel’s position compared to the last round of negotiations in Cairo.

US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

Updated 2 min 28 sec ago
Follow

US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

VIENNA: The US and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it and thereby risk further escalation, with the Europeans in favor, diplomats say.
It is 18 months since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.
While the number of sites in question has been narrowed to two, Iran still has not explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran has risen including Tehran barring many of the IAEA’s top uranium-enrichment experts on the inspection team.
A quarterly Board of Governors meeting begins in 10 days.
“It’s extremely difficult with Iran and the level of violations is unprecedented ... There is no slowing down of its program and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” a senior European diplomat said.
“All our indicators are flashing red.”
Concern about Iran’s atomic activities has been high for some time. It has been enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, close to the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade, for three years. It has enough material enriched to that level, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs, according to an IAEA yardstick.
Western powers say there is no credible civilian energy purpose in enriching to that level, and the IAEA says no other country has done so without making a nuclear weapon. Iran says its objectives are entirely peaceful.
The United States, however, has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings. Before the last one, in March, the European powers — France, Britain and Germany, known as the “E3” — disagreed with Washington on whether to seek a resolution but then backed down.
Officials often cite the US presidential election as a reason for the Biden administration’s reluctance.
But the main argument US officials make is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities, as it has done in the past.
Tensions in the Middle East are running particularly high with Israel continuing its military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. Israel and Iran carried out direct strikes on each other for the first time last month, and Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday has complicated the situation. In talks aimed at improving Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, Tehran told the Vienna-based agency this week it would not engage with it until Raisi’s successor is elected on June 28, two diplomats said.
“A resolution has been prepared,” another senior European diplomat said. Others confirmed the E3 had prepared a draft but not circulated it to Board members.
“Our analysis is the death of Raisi changes nothing. We have to move forward with this resolution ... The Americans are the difficulty, and in our conversations we continue to do everything to convince them.”
It was unclear when a decision on whether to seek a resolution would be reached. The next quarterly IAEA reports on Iran are due early next week. Draft resolutions tend to refer to those reports’ findings.


British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

Updated 4 min 51 sec ago
Follow

British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

  • Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison

LONDON: A British neonatal nurse who was convicted of murdering seven babies and the attempted murder of six others has lost her bid to appeal.
Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year. A three-judge panel of Britain’s Court of Appeal heard the case in April and released its decision on Friday.
“Having heard her application, we have decided to refuse leave to appeal on all grounds and refuse all associated applications,″ Judge Victoria Sharp said. “A full judgment will be handed down in due course.”
A jury at Manchester Crown Court had found her guilty of the crimes, which took place between June 2015 and June 2016 at the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital in northwestern England.
Most defendants in British court cases don’t have an automatic right to appeal. They must seek permission to appeal on a set of narrowly defined legal issues.


UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago
Follow

UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

  • Ireland, Spain and Norway announced this week that they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28
  • The Labour Party has been engulfed by an internal battle over its policy to the war in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas

LONDON: Britain’s opposition leader Keir Starmer said on Friday he wanted to recognize a Palestinian state if he won power in an upcoming general election, but said that such a move would need to come at the right time in a peace process.
Ireland, Spain and Norway announced this week that they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel which said this amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.
The Labour Party has been engulfed by an internal battle over its policy to the war in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that led to Israel’s invasion.
Starmer has faced criticism for some traditional Labour voters for only gradually shifting the party’s position toward supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.
The party’s stance led to 10 senior party lawmakers quitting their policy roles and was blamed for a handful of disappointing results in this month’s local elections in some areas with large Muslim populations.
Asked if he thought Palestine should be a state, Starmer told the BBC: “Yes, I do, and I think recognition of Palestine is extremely important. We need a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, and recognition has to be part of that.”
Starmer said recognition of a Palestinian state would need to come at the right time in a peace process, but “I absolutely believe in it,” arguing a two-state solution was essential for lasting peace in the region.
The two-state solution has long been the framework of British foreign policy and international efforts to resolve the conflict but the peace process has been moribund for years.
The current Conservative government, and other big European states such as France and Germany, have also voiced support in principle for a Palestinian state, but with the timing of recognition forming part of a broader peace process.
This week, Labour backed the independence of the International Criminal Court after it sought arrest warrants for both Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes, opening up a divide with the governing Conservative Party.
The Conservative government said the ICC did not have the jurisdiction to request the arrest warrants and it would not help get Israeli hostages out of Gaza, get humanitarian aid in, or deliver a sustainable ceasefire.


India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

  • Indian central bank has announced record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates
  • Surplus fund can help the new government bring down fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of GDP or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s incoming government will be greeted with a $25 billion cheque from the central bank, giving it the option to either boost spending or narrow the fiscal deficit quicker, both of which will be cheered by investors.
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to the government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates, leading to a decline in bond yields and a rise in equity markets.
The surplus fund can help the new government, which will take charge after the current elections, bring down its fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus, Citi Research’s Samiran Chakraborty said.
“The bond markets would likely hope that the government follows the deficit reduction route, while the equity markets would likely prefer the government taking the expenditure increase one,” said Chakraborty.
During the election campaigns, the opposition Congress promised annual cash handouts of 100,000 rupees ($1,202.07) to poor women and unemployed youth. The party’s star campaigner Rahul Gandhi also promised debt waiver for farmers.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has avoided promising any new major welfare measures.
“Despite higher revenue from the RBI dividend, we doubt the government would opt for more populist expenditure in its budget, if the government is BJP-led,” said Shreya Sodhani, an economist at Barclays.
“The current government has not shown a disposition toward populist spending even in an election year.”
The BJP-led government resisted the temptation of spending trillions of rupees on schemes for the poor in its last budget before the election while raising spending on infrastructure to 11.11 trillion rupees, more than three time the sum spent in 2019.
QUICKER FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
The new government will likely present the final budget in July, leaving the administration with only eight months to spend funds allocated to them.
Government spending has been slow so far in the year, with the start of elections from April. Tax collections, meanwhile, have been strong due to buoyancy in the economy.
India collected a record 2.10 trillion rupees in goods and services taxes in April, the first month of the financial year, ensuring the government is on track to meet its planned fiscal goal of 5.1 percent of GDP this year.
This could mean the government will lean toward using the bumper dividend for fiscal consolidation.
There is scope for a slight reduction in the targeted fiscal deficit for the current year, said Ashima Goyal, a professor and an external member of the country’s monetary policy committee, who expects the government to comfortably achieve the targeted fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent by 2025/26.
India’s fiscal deficit ballooned to 9.2 percent during the pandemic but the government has steadily brought this down.
But bringing down the deficit by 130 basis points from 5.8 percent in 2023/24 was seen as challenging and dependent on one-off revenue from either privatization or auction of telecom spectrum.
($1 = 83.1900 Indian rupees)