TikTok US Ban: Bill to Force ByteDance App Sale Passes House Committee

With American lawmakers sounding the alarm again over TikTok’s ties to China’s communist regime, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee unanimously voted to approve a bill that would give China’s ByteDance 165 days to divest its ownership of TikTok — or effectively face a U.S. ban.

The bill, “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” was introduced March 5 by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.). If enacted, the bill would block ByteDance-controlled apps, including TikTok, from being available in Apple or Google app stores or on web hosting services in the U.S., unless such an app “severs ties to entities like ByteDance that are subject to the control of a foreign adversary.” It passed Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce committee in a 50-0 vote.

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TikTok has been a political football for several years, dating back to the Trump administration. The short-form video app, as it has exploded in popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere, has been a target of American lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle — who are concerned over its ties to China and how TikTok handles U.S. users’ data.

Earlier Thursday, TikTok’s app displayed an alert to users in the U.S. urging them to oppose the legislation that said, “Stop a TikTok shutdown” and prompting them to call their congressional representatives with the message, “Let Congress know what TikTok means to you and tell them to vote NO.” That led to a deluge of phone calls to offices on Capitol Hill, per the New York Times, citing social-media posts.

In a statement following the House committee vote, TikTok said, “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States. The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

The ACLU also blasted the committee vote on the TikTok bill. “We are deeply disappointed that the committee chose to ignore the serious First Amendment concerns raised by civil liberties groups and instead voted to advance this bill,” Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at ACLU, said in a statement. “As the flood of constituent calls to Congress confirms, TikTok is a vital platform for accessing information and expressing ourselves. When this bill comes to the floor for a vote, we urge representatives to stand up for free speech, and vote down this misguided bill.”

In addition to requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok or be banned in the U.S., the bill “creates a process for the President to designate certain, specifically defined social media applications that are subject to the control of a foreign adversary” and “pose a national security risk.” The text of the bill is available at this link.

“This is my message to TikTok: break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users,” Gallagher, who is chair of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, said in a statement released Tuesday. “America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States. TikTok’s time in the United States is over unless it ends its relationship with CCP-controlled ByteDance.”

TikTok has routinely said that it has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government (and TikTok says it would not honor such a request if one were ever made). Appearing at a contentious congressional hearing in March 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew asserted that the app “is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity.” About 60% of ByteDance is owned by “global institutional investors” including BlackRock, General Atlantic, Susquehanna International Group and Sequoia, with 20% owned by the company’s Chinese founders and 20% owned by other employees, according to TikTok.

Meanwhile, last year, the U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), an interagency group overseeing national security risks that is led by the Treasury Department, similarly demanded that ByteDance’s Chinese owners divest TikTok under the threat of a ban.

Montana last year became the first U.S. state to pass a law banning TikTok. But a federal judge blocked the legislation before it was set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024 — ruling that it “oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional rights of users and businesses.”

TikTok has been banned by the government of India, which has cited security concerns over the app’s Chinese ownership, since June 2020.

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