US House Of Reps Passes TikTok Ban Bill

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United States House Passes TikTok Ban Bill

The House of Representatives by a wide margin passed a bill that would make it illegal to distribute or host TikTok in the U.S. — effectively blocking it from some 170 million American users — unless Chinese owner ByteDance divests its interest in the popular app.

It’s the first time a congressional bill has passed that would outlaw an internet app. The fears among many American lawmakers, who see TikTok as a national security threat: that the Chinese regime could demand access to data on TikTok’s U.S. users or somehow compel it to promote China’s agenda. TikTok has repeatedly claimed the Chinese government has never made such demands (and that TikTok would not comply with them if they were made).

The bill, dubbed the “Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” passed the House by a vote of 352-65 Wednesday morning with bipartisan support, amid pushback from some representatives on both sides of the aisle. That came after the bill was fast-tracked on a “suspension of the rules” schedule requiring a two-thirds majority to pass.

While it had a groundswell of backing in the House, the measure’s fate in the Senate is unclear as there is currently no corresponding legislation on the table.

President Biden has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk — even as his re-election campaign just launched an account on TikTok, @bidenhq, last month on Super Bowl Sunday. Biden in 2022 approved a measure banning TikTok on most U.S. government devices.

If signed into law, the legislation is expected to face legal challenges, including potentially from TikTok. Prior attempts in the U.S. to ban TikTok have so far failed on First Amendment grounds and because courts found legal challenges have presented only hypothetical national security risks instead of actual evidence TikTok has shared any data with Chinese authorities.

The threat of an American TikTok ban would escalate tensions between the U.S. and China. Chinese officials have said the government would “firmly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok because it would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States.” According to China’s commerce ministry, ByteDance’s sale of its TikTok ownership would represent a technology export and be subject to the government’s approval. “You’re not going to be able to force ByteDance to divest,” James Lewis, SVP at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times.

The bill was introduced March 5 by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), and was unanimously approved by a House committee in a 50-0 vote. Under the bill, Apple and Google’s app stores and web hosting services in the U.S. would be barred from hosting any “foreign adversary controlled application,” specifically calling out ByteDance’s TikTok, per the text of the bill (H.R. 7521).

The ban would go into effect unless such a “foreign adversary” (i.e. ByteDance) divests its ownership in the app (i.e. TikTok) within 165 days of becoming law. In addition, the bill gives the U.S. president latitude to determine which apps controlled by hostile foreign governments should be subject to the divestiture requirement.

“This is my message to TikTok: break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users,” Gallagher, who is chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, said in introducing the bill.

Violators of the TikTok ban would face steep fines, amounting to $5,000 multiplied by every U.S. user “determined to have accessed, maintained or updated a foreign adversary controlled application.”

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By Abia ThinkTank

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