US Panel to Vote on TikTok Ban Over National Security Concerns in February

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The House Foreign Affairs Committee plans to hold a vote next month on a bill aimed at blocking the use of China’s popular social media app TikTok in the United States, the committee confirmed on Friday.

The measure, planned by the panel’s chair Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican, would aim to give the White House the legal tools to ban TikTok over US national security concerns.

“The concern is that this app gives the Chinese government a back door into our phones,” McCaul told Bloomberg News, which reported the vote timing earlier.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump attempted to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked the app’s use in the United States, but lost a series of court battles over the measure.

The Biden administration in June 2021 formally abandoned that effort. Then in December, Republican Senator Marco Rubio unveiled bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok, which would also block all transactions from any social media company in or under the influence of China and Russia.

But a ban of the short video app, which is owned by ByteDance and is popular among teens, would face significant hurdles in Congress to pass, and would need 60 votes in the Senate.

For three years, TikTok – which has more than 100 million US users – has been seeking to assure Washington that the personal data of US citizens cannot be accessed and its content cannot be manipulated by China’s Communist Party or anyone else under Beijing’s influence.

TikTok said Friday “calls for total bans of TikTok take a piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms.”

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that US user data could be passed on to China’s government.

CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks since 2021, aiming to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of US TikTok users.

TikTok said it had a “comprehensive package of measures with layers of government and independent oversight to ensure that there are no backdoors into TikTok that could be used to manipulate the platform” and invested roughly $1.5 billion (roughly Rs. 12,300 crore) to date on those efforts.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the bill on Friday. “It’s under review by (CFIUS) so I am just not going to get into details on that,” Jean-Pierre said.

Last month, Biden signed legislation that included a ban on federal employees using or downloading TikTok on government-owned devices. More than 25 US states have also banned the use of TikTok on state-owned devices.

© Thomson Reuters 2023


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