House Passes Bill That Would Lead to TikTok Ban if Chinese Owner Doesn’t Sell. Senate Path Unclear

March 13, 2024by Kevin Freking, Associated Press
House Passes Bill That Would Lead to TikTok Ban if Chinese Owner Doesn’t Sell. Senate Path Unclear
A TikTok sign is displayed on their building in Culver City, Calif., March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn’t sell, as lawmakers acted on concerns that the company’s current ownership structure is a national security threat.

The bill, passed by a vote of 352-65, now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are unclear.

TikTok, which has more than 150 million American users, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd.

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.

“We have given TikTok a clear choice,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “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. The choice is TikTok’s.”

House passage of the bill is only 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.

Opposition to the bill was also bipartisan. Some Republicans said the U.S. should warn consumers if there are data privacy and propaganda concerns, while some Democrats voiced concerns about the impact a ban would have on its millions of users in the U.S., many of which are entrepreneurs and business owners.

“The answer to authoritarianism is not more authoritarianism,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. “The answer to CCP-style propaganda is not CCP-style oppression. Let us slow down before we blunder down this very steep and slippery slope.”

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.

“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.

“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.

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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