House committee approves bill that could lead to a TikTok ban in the US

The Foreign Affairs Committee advanced the fast-tracked legislation with a party-line vote.


The House Foreign Affairs Committee has 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 the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act in a 24-16 vote. All Republicans on the panel were in favor while every Democrat voted against the bill.

There are several more steps that the bill needs to go through before it becomes law. The full House and the Senate would have to pass it, and Biden would have to sign the bill. Still, it's a notable step forward for the latest attempt to ban TikTok in the US entirely.

Republican committee chair Michael McCaul introduced the DATA Act (PDF) only last week. McCaul expects the bill to go to a full house vote later this month, according to Reuters.

The legislation would grant the president the power to enact sanctions, including bans, on any company that the Treasury Secretary deems "knowingly provides or may transfer sensitive personal data of persons subject to United States jurisdiction to any foreign person that is 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 is otherwise subject to the influence of China."

Democratic members of the Foreign Affairs Committee claimed that the legislation was too broad. It would "damage our allegiances across the globe, bring more companies into China's sphere, destroy jobs here in the United States and undercut core American values of free speech and free enterprise," Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat member, said. He suggested that the legislation as is could lead to sanctions against businesses in Korea and Taiwan that supply semiconductors and other parts to Chinese companies.

"A US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide," TikTok wrote on Twitter. "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."

"Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of 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 a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around 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 may obtain user data from the app. Owner ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing, but TikTok claims it doesn't share data with the Chinese government. By last summer, TikTok was routing all US data to Oracle servers based in the country. It pledged to delete US users' private data from its own servers.

Nevertheless, the US government has banned the app from federally owned devices, this week giving agencies 30 days to make sure it's gone from phones and tablets they operate. Most US states, the European Union, Canada and Quebec are also preventing their employees from using TikTok on state-owned devices.

TikTok has been trying for years to convince US officials that it's not a threat to national security in an attempt to evade a complete ban. The company's CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23rd to discuss privacy, as well as TikTok's influence on kids and its links to China.