US House approves Bill to ban TikTok over national security concerns

Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly back Bill, which gives Chinese owner of video-sharing platform 180 days to divest ownership

The US House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to approve a Bill that would ban app stores from distributing TikTok if its Chinese owner does not divest ownership of the video-sharing platform.

Republicans and Democrats came together in a 352-65 vote to back the Bill, which also has the support of president Joe Biden, but is opposed by Donald Trump.

US security and intelligence officials have in recent days held classified briefings for lawmakers to stress what they say are the national security risks of allowing ByteDance, a Chinese company, to own TikTok.

Lawmakers largely ignored an intense lobbying campaign by TikTok, which used its own app to urge users to call members of Congress to oppose the measure. A total of 197 Republicans also backed the Bill even after Mr Trump, a former critic of TikTok, changed his position to oppose the measure.


TikTok said in a statement: “This process was secret and the Bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. 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.”

The White House and many lawmakers have pushed back against claims by TikTok that they are trying to “ban” the app and stressed that they are happy for the platform to remain as long as it has no Chinese ownership.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday said the crucial issue involved was a question of “ownership”.

“Do we want TikTok as a platform to be owned by an American company or owned by China? Do we want the data from TikTok, children’s data, adults’ data ... staying here in America or going to China?” Mr Sullivan said. “That is the fundamental question at issue here and the president is clear where he stands on that fundamental issue.”

The House vote paves the way for the Senate to consider the Bill, or craft its own measure to tackle TikTok. A previous Senate effort to address the issue failed to gain traction because some lawmakers thought it gave the administration overly broad authority in relation to many kinds of apps.

But the large vote in the House to compel ByteDance to divest TikTok is likely to raise the pressure on senators to seriously consider the measure.

In one sign of that momentum, Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the intelligence committee, and his Republican vice-chair Marco Rubio threw their support behind the measure, saying they “look forward to working together to get this Bill passed through the Senate and signed into law”.

However, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader and a China hawk, was non-committal after the vote, saying the Senate would “review the legislation when it comes over from the House”.

Proponents of the Bill will face opposition from Rand Paul, the libertarian Kentucky Republican senator who has expressed concern about the implications for free speech. TikTok has urged its supporters to make the same case to Congress, arguing that the rights of the 170 million Americans who have downloaded the video-sharing app are in jeopardy.

Maria Cantwell, the Democratic chair of the Senate commerce committee, who is critical because her panel would have jurisdiction over the Bill if it proceeded via regular process, said she was “very concerned” about adversaries exploiting Americans’ data or attempting to build backdoors in information communication technology.

“These are national security threats and it is good members in both chambers are taking them seriously. I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties,” Ms Cantwell said.

The Bill gives ByteDance 180 days to divest TikTok to prevent it from being banned from app stores. It was introduced by Mike Gallagher, the Republican head of the House committee on China, and his Democratic counterpart Raja Krishnamoorthi. The House energy and commerce committee last week approved it in a unanimous 50-0 vote.

In a letter to Mr Gallagher and Mr Krishnamoorthi on Monday, TikTok’s top lobbyist Michael Beckerman said the Bill was being rushed through Congress at “unprecedented speed” and posed “serious constitutional concerns”. He also rejected arguments that TikTok was indirectly controlled by the Chinese government through ByteDance.

US officials worry that ByteDance would be unable to refuse a request from Beijing to hand over Americans’ user data because of a Chinese national security law that requires companies to provide information on demand.

Testifying before Congress on Monday, FBI director Christopher Wray said he agreed with the view that ByteDance would have to hand over the data that made TikTok’s algorithm so successful if so ordered by Beijing.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024