Walla Walla High School students had the opportunity to speak with District 5 Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers about technology, internet access and one topic of interest – TikTok.
McMorris Rodgers told readers on the “Conversation with Cathy” Town Hall on Tuesday, March 14, that Shou Zi Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, will testify before Congress next week. He said the video-sharing app, which is based in China, has raised concerns in the US about data collection.
“Last week we introduced a bill that would require an app to disclose where data is stored,” said McMorris Rodgers. “That’s the first step for us to get an understanding as humans of where the data is stored.”
McMorris Rodgers, who is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that a bill was recently passed in the committee that would require a disclosure statement when anyone opens the TikTok app.
“When you open the TikTok app it will say, ‘This app has been banned by the federal government (to prevent its employees from using it),’ so you know there are concerns about this app,” McMorris Rodgers said. He said lawmakers’ next steps will include data privacy and security legislation.
“How do we control the data that China will be collecting?” asked another student.
“What we’re proposing – and this is very comprehensive, it came out of the last congressional committee 53-2 – would mean that if a company is going to collect more information about you than it needs for its specific purposes related to that application or business, you will have to be notified if it’s going to be sold to the data system,” said McMorris Rodgers.
Another reader asked about the age and content restrictions on the app.
“TikTok USA is a very different experience than TikTok in China,” McMorris Rodgers said. “In China even your time on TikTok is limited. It looks very educational, very scientific and technical, so those are the kinds of questions we’ll be asking the chief executive when he comes in next week.”
Congress also spoke about the importance of broadband access, especially for students.
“How do you plan to increase public knowledge about government and international affairs through rural broadband?” asked another student.
McMorris Rodgers told the students that during the pandemic, many students did not have enough internet, which was needed to go to school almost.
“We continue to have untapped and neglected regions where people still lack internet connection,” he said. “Most of our lives are on our phones, be it at school, businesses or shops, it has become an infrastructure. He wants to have electricity and he wants to connect to the Internet.”
He said the epidemic showed the difficulty of the digital divide and led to more funding to change it.
“I believe we should prioritize the unemployed and we should be technology neutral,” said McMorris Rodgers. “Whatever works, whatever will best serve the need — sometimes it’s fiber, sometimes it’s wireless, sometimes it’s satellite. I’m working on satellite legislation that can help facilitate that.”
Bill Plucker, the high school’s government teacher, said it’s rare for local or state legislators to come and talk to students.
“It’s a special opportunity,” Plucker said. “In the 30 years I have been here, it has been visited four times. It is rare.”
McMorris Rodgers’ visit to Walla Walla High School was part of a series of town halls in which he visits several schools in his congressional district, which covers about the eastern third of the state.
“I always enjoy interacting with children and visiting high schools,” she said. “It’s important that they have some understanding and understand what their representative is doing.”