The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted to advance proposed legislation to empower the White House to ban the Chinese-owned app TikTok nationwide, and to crack down on other China-related activity.
The Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act had been introduced on Friday and fast-tracked by Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul. It comes after members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for a nationwide ban on TikTok for all Americans.
In November FBI Director Chris Wray had warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations.
Since that warning Congress, the White House, and more than a dozen states have taken actions to ban TikTok on government devices.
The European Union and Canada have also recently banned TikTok on government devices.
The House Foreign Affairs bill specifically names TikTok and its owner, ByteDance. It requires President Biden to impose penalties against the companies, up to and potentially including a ban, if the Administration determines they may have knowingly transferred TikTok’s user data to “any foreign person” working for or under the influence of the Chinese government.
Per the bill, the U.S. could also impose sanctions if the White House finds that TikTok and ByteDance helped China engage in surveillance, hacking, censorship or intelligence-gathering. Sanctions could also be levied if the companies helped China meddle in U.S. elections—or the elections of a U.S. democratic ally—or helped the Chinese government influence U.S. policymaking.
Additionally, the bill would weaken a 35-year-old law that prohibits the federal government from restricting the free flow of “informational materials” such as movies, photos, news and potentially electronic media to and from foreign countries, including those that may be under sanctions.
In response to the legislation, TikTok called on the Biden Administration to finalize a proposed security deal that’s been in the works for years to address U.S. concerns about users’ personal data.
“TikTok Inc. is a U.S. company bound by U.S. law,” said spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter, “and we are two years and $1.5 billion dollars deep into a project to go above and beyond existing law to secure the U.S. version of the TikTok platform.”
She added, “We’re disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward, despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok.”
According to reports, TikTok has more than 1 billion monthly active users in more than 150 countries worldwide as of the last quarter of 2022, including a reported 135 million users in the U.S., the majority of whom are 18-24 years old.
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