House Votes To Ban TikTok Unless ByteDance Divests

The House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that could result in a ban on the popular TikTok app.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (H.R. 7521), which passed 362-55, would prohibit app stores and websites from distributing TikTok unless its parent company, China-based ByteDance, sells the app within 180 days.

The measure, largely driven by concerns that the Chinese government may be able to access data about TikTok's users, now heads to the Senate.

TikTok stated after the vote that it hoped the Senate “will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”



Digital rights groups criticized the bill, arguing that banning a communications platform would violate the First Amendment rights of millions of TikTok users. What's more, the groups argued, banning the app wouldn't prevent Chinese government from obtaining data about U.S. residents from other sources.

“If Congress wants to protect Americans' data, it should pass comprehensive privacy legislation,” two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology, Fight for the Future and Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University said in a letter sent Tuesday to House leaders.

It's not clear whether the Senate will pass the bill, or even vote on the measure in its current form.

One outspoken opponent, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky),  describes the bill as “a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, expressed concerns about foreign government's ability to access sensitive data, but appeared to suggest she doesn't support the House bill in its current form.

“I’m very concerned about foreign adversaries’ exploitation of Americans’ sensitive data and their attempts to build backdoors in our information communication technology and services supply chains,” she stated. “These are national security threats and it is good members in both chambers are taking them seriously. Following today’s House vote, I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

Last year, a federal district court judge blocked a Montana law that would have banned TikTok in that state, ruling that the law likely violates the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy said in that case that the Montana law wasn't “narrowly tailored” to prevent China from accessing data about U.S. residents.

“It is well-established that other social media companies, such as Meta, collect similar data as TikTok, and sell that data to undisclosed third parties, which harms consumers,” he wrote, adding that China and other countries could also purchase information about residents from data brokers.

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