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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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House clears bill that could ban TikTok, rising above lawmaker reservations

The lower chamber overwhelmingly passed a measure that would ban the platform unless it cuts ties with tech firm ByteDance, despite concerns from some members that the measure would restrict civil liberties.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House Wednesday morning took a step toward what could become a national ban on social media platform TikTok, passing a bipartisan measure demanding it divest from its parent company.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted, 352-65, to approve the measure sponsored by Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher and Illinois Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi. The bill now heads to the Senate.

If made law, the legislation would require any application controlled by a country the U.S. designates as a “foreign adversary” to cut ties with its parent entity within six months of the bill’s enactment. Failing to divest carries fines and the threat of a general ban in the U.S.

The measure also gives the president authority to decide which applications are controlled by a foreign adversary and when a company has sufficiently divested from a foreign entity.

Although the legislation’s text could potentially apply to any company with foreign ties, the measure is targeted at — and specifically mentions — TikTok and ByteDance. Lawmakers have for years worried that the platform’s parent company is controlled to some degree by the Chinese government and have said that allowing TikTok to remain under Chinese ownership presents a national security threat.

Despite wide bipartisan support for the bill, several lawmakers have raised concerns that it would infringe on civil liberties by serving as an effective ban. TikTok has long said that it has no plans to divest from ByteDance.

“Americans have the right to view information,” said Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, one of the chief Republican opponents of the proposed measure, on the House floor Wednesday morning. “We don’t need to be protected by the government from information. Some of us just don’t want the president picking which apps we can put on our phones or which websites we can visit.”

California Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove, a Democrat, concurred.

“This bill seriously undermines civil liberties by essentially banning a platform that 150 million Americans use to engage in free speech and expression,” she said. “Banning TikTok is an insufficient Band-Aid solution to the genuine national security concerns the app raises and exposes.”

The legislation’s sponsors, however, were keen to point out that their bill did not ban TikTok outright.

“This bill is not a ban and it’s not about TikTok — it’s about ByteDance,” said Krishnamoorthi, arguing that Congress’ intention should be for TikTok “to continue to operate, but not under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The Illinois Democrat pointed to precedent for such divestment: Dating app Grindr in 2020 was sold by a Chinese tech firm after the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States identified national security concerns.

Gallagher pushed back on opponents of his bill who suggested that its language could be used to target a broader swath of companies, including American firms.

The measure “only applies to companies subject to the control of foreign adversaries defined by Congress,” the Wisconsin Republican told his colleagues, adding that it can’t be used to go after American companies or individuals.

“TikTok is a threat to our national security because it is owned by a company that does the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” Gallagher said. “We know this because their leadership says so and because Chinese law requires it.”

The House vote comes just a day after lawmakers attended a classified briefing from the intelligence community on the purported national security threats posed by TikTok, the exact details of which have been scarce.

In a statement published Wednesday to X, formerly Twitter, TikTok decried the “secret” nature of the bill’s development, adding that 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 realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” TikTok wrote.

President Biden has signaled that he would sign the divestment bill if it landed on his desk.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics, Technology

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