The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance legislation that would give President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok in the US along with other apps owned by Chinese companies. The panel approved the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act by a vote of 24-16. All Republicans on the panel were in favor while every Democrat voted against the bill.
There are still many steps the bill needs to go through before it becomes law. It must pass the full House and Senate, and Biden must sign the bill. However, this is a notable step forward for the latest attempt to ban TikTok in the US entirely.
Republican committee chairman Michael McCaul introduced the DATA Act (PDF) last week. McCaul expects the bill to go to a full house vote later this month, according to Reuters.
The legislation would give the president the power to impose sanctions, including bans, on any company deemed by the Treasury Secretary to “discreetly provide or may transfer sensitive personal data to persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to any foreign person subject to the jurisdiction or direction” of China. The same applies to a foreign person or company that is “owned by, directly or indirectly controlled by, or otherwise under Chinese influence.”
Democratic members of the Foreign Affairs Committee claim the law is too broad. It would “damage our reputation around the world, drive more companies to China, destroy jobs here in the United States and undermine the core American values of free speech and free enterprise,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat member, said. He suggested that the legislation could lead to sanctions against Korean and Taiwanese businesses that supply semiconductors and other parts to Chinese companies.
“The US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service around the world,” TikTok wrote on Twitter. “We are disappointed to see this urgent piece of legislation move forward, despite its massive negative impact on the free speech rights of the millions of Americans who use and love TikTok.”
“Congress should not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to free speech and expression,” American Civil Liberties Union senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff said in a statement. “Whether we’re discussing the news of the day, live streaming protests, or even watching cat videos, we have the right to use TikTok and other platforms to share our thoughts, ideas, and opinion of people all over the country and around. the world.” Leventoff called the bill “vague, overbroad and unconstitutional.”
TikTok has faced a growing backlash in recent months over concerns that the Chinese government could obtain user data from the app. Owner ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing, but TikTok admits it does not share data with the Chinese government. Last summer, TikTok routed all US data to Oracle servers based in the country. It has promised to remove the private data of US users from its own servers.
However, the US government has banned the app from federally owned devices, this week giving agencies 30 days to ensure it is no longer on the phones and tablets they use. Most US states, the European Union, Canada and Quebec also prevent their employees from using TikTok on state-owned devices.
TikTok has long tried to convince US officials that it is not a threat to national security in an attempt to avoid a full ban. The company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23 to discuss privacy, as well as TikTok’s influence on children and its links to China.
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