House poised to pass bill that could ban TikTok but it faces uncertain path in the Senate

House poised to pass bill that could ban TikTok but it faces uncertain path in the Senate

Author of the article:

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Kevin Freking

Published Mar 13, 2024  •  4 minute read

FILE - A TikTok sign is displayed on their building in Culver City, Calif., March 11, 2024.
FILE – A TikTok sign is displayed on their building in Culver City, Calif., March 11, 2024. Photo by Damian Dovarganes /THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill that could lead to a ban of the popular video app TikTok in the United States is expected to pass the House on Wednesday as lawmakers act on concerns that the company’s ownership structure is a threat to national security.

The bill would require the Chinese firm ByteDance to divest TikTok and other applications it owns within six months of the bill’s enactment or those apps would be prohibited. The lawmakers contend that ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok’s consumers in the U.S. any time it wants. The worry stems from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering.

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House passage of the bill would only be the first step. The Senate would also need to pass the measure for it to become law, and lawmakers in that chamber indicated it would undergo a thorough review. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he’ll have to consult with relevant committee chairs to determine the bill’s path.

President Joe Biden has said if Congress passes the measure, he will sign it.

The House vote is poised to open a new front in the long-running feud between lawmakers and the tech industry. Members of Congress have long been critical of tech platforms and their expansive influence, often clashing with executives over industry practices. But by targeting TikTok, lawmakers are singling out a platform popular with millions of people, many of whom skew younger, just months before an election.

Ahead of the House vote, a top national security official in the Biden administration held a closed-door briefing Tuesday with lawmakers to discuss TikTok and the national security implications. Lawmakers are balancing those security concerns against a desire not to limit free speech online.

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“What we’ve tried to do here is be very thoughtful and deliberate about the need to force a divestiture of TikTok without granting any authority to the executive branch to regulate content or go after any American company,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, the bill’s author, as he emerged from the briefing.

TikTok has long denied that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government. The company has said it has never shared U.S. user data with Chinese authorities and won’t do so if it is asked. To date, the U.S. government also has not provided any evidence that shows TikTok shared such information with Chinese authorities. The platform has about 170 million users in the U.S.

The security briefing seemed to change few minds, instead solidifying the views of both sides.

“We have a national security obligation to prevent America’s most strategic adversary from being so involved in our lives,” said Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y.

But Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., said no information has been shared with him that convinces him TikTok is a national security threat. “My opinion, leaving that briefing, has not changed at all,” he said.

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“This idea that we’re going to ban, essentially, entrepreneurs, small business owners, the main way how young people actually communicate with each other is to me insane,” Garcia said.

“Not a single thing that we heard in today’s classified briefing was unique to TikTok. It was things that happen on every single social media platform,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif.

Republican leaders have moved quickly to bring up the bill after its introduction last week. A House committee approved the legislation unanimously, on a 50-vote, even after their offices were inundated with calls from TikTok users demanding they drop the effort. Some offices even shut off their phones because of the onslaught.

Lawmakers in both parties are anxious to confront China on a range of issues. The House formed a special committee to focus on China-related issues. And Schumer directed committee chairs to begin working with Republicans on a bipartisan China competition bill.

Senators are expressing an openness to the bill, but suggested they don’t want to rush ahead.

“It is not for me a redeeming quality that you’re moving very fast in technology because the history shows you make a lot of mistakes,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

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In pushing ahead with the legislation, House Republicans are also creating rare daylight between themselves and former President Donald Trump as he seeks another term in the White House.

Trump has voiced opposition to the effort. He said Monday that he still believes TikTok poses a national security risk but is opposed to banning the hugely popular app because doing so would help its rival, Facebook, which he continues to lambast over his 2020 election loss.

As president, Trump attempted to ban TikTok through an executive order that called “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China)” a threat to “the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.” The courts, however, blocked the action after TikTok sued, arguing such actions would violate free speech and due process rights.

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