Home International US House passes potential TikTok ban that could speed through Senate

US House passes potential TikTok ban that could speed through Senate

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By tying the renewed crackdown to a bipartisan foreign aid deal, the bill could move quickly through Congress.

File picture: Reuters, Dado Ruvic, Illustration

By Cristiano Lima-Strong and Taylor Telford

US HOUSE lawmakers escalated efforts to restrict video-sharing platform TikTok, renewing pressure on the Senate by advancing a bill on Saturday that would force the company to be sold or face a national ban as part of a broader package sending aid to Israel and Ukraine.

The unorthodox manoeuvre could expedite the crackdown’s path through Congress, where negotiations had slowed after an earlier attempt hurtled through the House last month. With growing support in the Senate, the legislation appears more likely than ever to become law.

The move represents one of the most significant threats to the US operations of the wildly popular app, which is used by roughly 170 million Americans, but whose China-based parent company ByteDance has long sparked national security fears in Washington.

TikTok is “a spy balloon in Americans’ phones” used to “surveil and exploit America’s personal information,” Representative Michael McCaul (R-Tex), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday as he introduced the measure for debate.

The House voted 360-58 to approve legislation authorizing new penalties against Russia and Iran and requiring that TikTok divest from ByteDance or face a prohibition, one of several measures considered alongside the $95 billion foreign aid bills.

House lawmakers overwhelmingly advanced an earlier version of the legislation targeting TikTok last month, but tying the issue to the aid package, which has broad bipartisan support in both chambers, could expedite its passage through the Senate.

The Senate plans to take the matter up Tuesday, Majority Leader Charles E Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement e-mailed to The Post. “The Senate now stands ready to take the next step,” Schumer said.

President Biden said last month he would sign the TikTok bill if passed by Congress, and on Wednesday he endorsed the House foreign aid package, saying, “The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow.”

Under the bill, ByteDance would have up to 360 days to divest TikTok. If it declined or failed to do so during that time, mobile app stores and web-hosting providers would be prohibited from offering the app to users in the United States, effectively banning it nationwide. The bill explicitly targets TikTok and ByteDance, but would give the president the power to impose a similar ultimatum against other apps deemed to be “controlled” by “foreign adversaries.”

The TikTok measure has broad bipartisan support in the House.

“Companies and bad actors are collecting troves of our data unchecked and using it to exploit, monetize, and manipulate Americans of all ages,” Reps Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) said on Saturday in a statement lauding the bill’s passage. “This cannot be allowed to continue.”

TikTok has blasted lawmakers’ efforts to potentially ban the app as an affront on free speech and disputes lawmakers’ suggestions that it is beholden to China or any government.

COUNTER-OFFENSIVE

Since lawmakers introduced their latest proposal targeting the app last month, the company has launched a major counter-offensive against the effort, enlisting scores of users through pop-up notifications to bombard lawmakers with calls voicing opposition to the legislation.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually,” TikTok said Saturday in a statement to The Washington Post.

After House lawmakers passed the earlier TikTok legislation in just over a week, many senators called for slowing down deliberations in the upper chamber. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), whose committee has jurisdiction over the bill, initially expressed concerns about whether the proposal could withstand legal scrutiny and called for hearings.

But since then, a number of senators have come out in favor of the proposal and plans to tuck it into the foreign aid package. Cantwell announced Wednesday that she now supports the legislation after lawmakers agreed to give ByteDance more time to sell off TikTok.

Senators Mark R Warner (D-Va) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are supportive of the bill’s inclusion in the aid package, their offices confirmed. The two lawmakers had previously led separate legislative efforts to tackle concerns over the app.

“I’m glad to see the House help push this important bill forward to force Beijing-based ByteDance to divest its ownership of TikTok,” Warner said in a statement to The Post.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, dismissed the idea that TikTok is a national security threat, noting that even if the Chinese government is demanding access to user data, “the app is not collecting particularly sensitive data.”

“Policymakers have legitimate concerns about Chinese-made apps and reciprocal access to China’s digital market, but they should address those issues through policies that are specific, scalable, and sound,” Castro said in an e-mail to The Post.

A potential TikTok ban would hurt American businesses and content creators who use the platform to market their products and services, Castro said.

The effort is likely to face significant legal hurdles, as have previous attempts by the Trump administration and states to force a sale or ban of the app.

Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, a group that advocates for free speech rights, said in a statement Friday that the TikTok bill would “infringe” on “Americans’ First Amendment right to access information, ideas, and media from abroad.”

“Legislators who are genuinely concerned about social media platforms’ practices have better options at their disposal, and we continue to urge lawmakers to lean in to those rather than undermining the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans,” Johnson said.

– THE WASHINGTON POST

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