House Expected to Approve Bill Potentially Banning TikTok, Senate Approval Remains Uncertain

House is likely to pass a bill that could ban TikTok, but it faces an uncertain path in the Senate

A bill with potential implications for the future of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in the United States is poised to advance through the House on Wednesday, addressing concerns among lawmakers regarding the company’s ownership structure and its potential ramifications for national security.

The proposed legislation mandates that ByteDance, the Chinese firm behind TikTok, divest its ownership of TikTok and other affiliated applications within six months of the bill’s enactment, failing which these apps would be banned.

Lawmakers argue that ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government raise fears that it could be compelled to provide access to user data from TikTok’s American consumers, citing Chinese national security laws requiring cooperation with intelligence efforts.

Among the bill’s cosponsors are Democratic Representatives Seth Moulton and Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts.

While passage in the House represents a significant initial step, the bill must also clear the Senate to become law. Senators have indicated a thorough review process, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stating the need for consultations with relevant committee chairs to determine the bill’s course.

President Joe Biden has affirmed his intention to sign the bill should it pass through Congress.

The House vote signals a new chapter in the ongoing tensions between lawmakers and the tech industry. While Congress has often scrutinized tech platforms for their broad influence, the focus on TikTok marks a unique move against a platform particularly popular among younger demographics, occurring just months ahead of an election.

TikTok
TikTok (Credits: CNBC)

In preparation for the House vote, a senior national security official in the Biden administration held a closed briefing with lawmakers to discuss TikTok and its security implications. Lawmakers are balancing security concerns with the imperative to preserve online free speech.

Representative Mike Gallagher, the bill’s author, emphasized the careful approach to divesting TikTok without granting excessive regulatory power over content or American companies.

TikTok has consistently denied claims of being a tool for the Chinese government, asserting it has never shared U.S. user data with Chinese authorities and would refuse any such request. To date, no evidence has been provided by the U.S. government demonstrating such data sharing. TikTok boasts approximately 170 million users in the U.S.

The security briefing did little to sway opinions, reinforcing existing stances on both sides of the debate.

Some lawmakers, like Representative Nick LaLota of New York, view TikTok as a national security imperative to address China’s influence. Others, like Representative Robert Garcia of California, remain unconvinced of TikTok’s threat.

Republican leaders have expedited the bill’s progression following its introduction, despite pushback from TikTok users flooding congressional offices with calls opposing the effort.

Both parties share a common desire to confront China on various fronts. The House has established a special committee dedicated to China-related matters, while Schumer has instructed committee chairs to collaborate on a bipartisan China competition bill.

Senators are receptive to the bill but cautious about rushing through the legislative process.

This legislative push creates a rare divergence between House Republicans and former President Donald Trump, who opposes efforts to ban TikTok despite deeming it a security risk. Trump’s attempted ban through executive order faced legal challenges, with courts blocking the action amidst arguments regarding free speech and due process rights.