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US House passes bill that would ban TikTok amid national security concerns

The bill now heads to an uncertain future in the Senate, though President Biden has pledged to sign it if it passes.

The United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill that could eventually ban the social media platform TikTok in the country, in its latest salvo against both China and big tech.

The bill received resoundingly bipartisan support, with vote of 352 to 65 in favour. It now heads to the 100-member Senate, where its prospects are less clear. For his part, President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill into law if it reached his desk.

If that happened, TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance would be given about six months to divest from its US assets or see its video-sharing app banned in the US.

The legislation stems from concerns that ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese government. Government officials have expressed fears that the data TikTok collects from its roughly 170 million American users could pose a national security threat.

Recent national security laws passed in China, which can compel organisations to assist with intelligence gathering, have further buoyed those concerns.

Bytedance, however, has repeatedly maintained it operates independently of the Chinese government.

Speaking on Wednesday, US Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the legislation has “given TikTok a clear choice”.

“Separate from your parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the CCP [the Chinese Communist Party], and remain operational in the United States, or side with the CCP and face the consequences,” she said. “The choice is TikTok’s.”

Opponents of Wednesday’s bill cited concerns about freedom of speech and called the move a knee-jerk effort that falls short of meaningful reform.

“Rather than target one company in a rushed and secretive process, Congress should pass comprehensive data privacy protections and do a better job of informing the public of the threats these companies may pose to national security,” Representative Barbara Lee, a progressive stalwart, posted on the social media platform X.

TikTok decries ‘ban’

In advance of the House vote, a top national security official in the Biden administration held a closed-door briefing with legislators to discuss TikTok and its national security implications.

Meanwhile, both Republican and Democratic legislators reported a flood of calls from TikTok users in opposition to the legislation.

Several TikTok supporters, including prominent content creators on the platform, gathered in front of the US Capitol on Wednesday in advance of the vote. The company also issued a statement opposing the vote.

“This process was secret, and the bill was jammed through for one reason: It’s a ban,” TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realise the impact on the economy, seven million small businesses and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

Will TikTok be unavailable in the US?

Tiktok’s future in the Senate remains uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has said he will consult with relevant committee chairs to determine the bill’s path.

For their part, Democratic and Republican leaders of the US Senate Intelligence Committee said they were encouraged by the bill’s passage in the House.

“[We] look forward to working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law,” Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio said in a statement.

TikTok is set to remain available in the US for the foreseeable future.

If the bill were to be passed into law, ByteDance would have six months to divest before a ban would be imposed. A sale in that amount of time is possible, but the timeline would be tight for such a large acquisition.

Failure to comply with the deadline would mean that US-based app stores could not legally offer TikTok or provide web-hosting services for ByteDance-controlled applications.

But any forced divestment would almost certainly face lengthy legal challenges. ByteDance would need to file an appeal within 165 days of the bill being signed by the president.

Last year, for instance, a US judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok use after the company sued.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday on a previously scheduled trip to talk to senators, a source briefed on the matter told the Reuters news agency.


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