US Congressional committee unanimous in first TikTok ban legislation vote

The icon for the video sharing TikTok app is seen on a smartphone, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.
The icon for the video sharing TikTok app is seen on a smartphone, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Copyright AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File
By Anna Desmarais
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Members of a US congressional committee voted 50-0 in an initial vote on legislation that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok.

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US lawmakers voted unanimously in a Congressional committee on Thursday night in favour of a proposed bill to ban TikTok if the Chinese company behind the app doesn’t sell it to someone else.

Congressmen Mike Gallagher, a Republican, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, backed by a dozen other politicians, introduced the bipartisan Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act earlier this week.

The legislation would give ByteDance, the Chinese company behind TikTok, an ultimatum: either sell to a non-Chinese entity within 165 days or it will be prohibited from app stores and web hosting until the company complies.

ByteDance is a Chinese internet technology company with headquarters in Beijing. This law accuses the company of being backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"Today, we [took] the first step in creating long overdue laws to protect Americans from the threat posed by apps controlled by our adversaries," committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a release.

“We will NOT allow for the continued targeting, surveilling, and manipulation of Americans through foreign adversary-controlled applications".

The idea for the law, according to a statement from Krishnamoorthi, is to “protect American social media users…from the digital surveillance and influence operations of regimes that could weaponise their personal data against them”.

The draft law would also give the US president a process to identify social media apps run by foreign bodies that “pose a national security threat”.

Once the president identifies those applications, they could face a similar situation to ByteDance, where they would be forced to divest or face a full ban.

Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi maintained in their statement that in no way will the law go after any individual social media users and it will not censor anything that is being posted or said on the affected apps.

Approximately 150 million Americans used TikTok in 2023, according to information from the app.

Efforts to restrict TikTok

The law is the latest attempt by the United States to severely restrict or ban TikTok.

US courts blocked a recent ruling by the state of Montana to ban TikTok on accusations of espionage. At the national level, TikTok is also banned from being used on official government devices. The app has also been banned on EU work-related devices.

In 2023, President Joe Biden’s administration backed legislation by two dozen senators that suggested a ban on TikTok and new powers to do the same with other foreign-based social media apps, but, according to Reuters, that bill has never been voted on.

Former President Donald Trump also tried banning the app in 2020 but was blocked by US courts.

At a January congressional hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Chew maintained the company has never shared any personal information with the Chinese government.

“We have never been asked for any data from the Chinese government, and we have never provided it,” Chew said at the time.

However, Yintao Yu, a former head of engineering for the American branch of ByteDance, detailed in a 2023 legal filing that the Communist Party had access to some US user data.

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Chew also told the US Congress that TikTok is investing “billions of dollars” into developing Project Texas, a firewall to protect US data from ByteDance staff. The company is also in the middle of a major data deletion plan, Chew continued, that will be reviewed by a third party once finished.

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