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TikTok Ban Update: House Advances Bipartisan Bill Threatening Total Ban on Popular App

In a swift move, a bipartisan measure targeting the widely-used social media platform TikTok has gained momentum in the House of Representatives, raising concerns about the app’s potential surveillance and manipulation of American users. The bill, named the “Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” advanced out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a unanimous bipartisan vote of 50-0, marking a significant step toward a potential ban.

The proposed legislation, supported by House Speaker Mike Johnson, takes a dual-pronged approach. Firstly, it mandates ByteDance Ltd., TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, to divest the app and other controlled applications within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, or face prohibition in the United States. Secondly, it establishes a process enabling the executive branch to block access to apps owned by foreign adversaries if they pose a national security threat.

The White House has provided technical support in drafting the bill, but White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that further refinement is necessary before President Joe Biden endorses it. The move comes after former President Donald Trump’s executive order attempting to ban TikTok was blocked by the courts, citing concerns about free speech and due process rights.

Representative Mike Gallagher, the bill’s author and Republican chairman of the House committee focused on China, emphasized that the legislation aims to force a change in TikTok’s ownership rather than an outright ban. Concerns have been raised that the Chinese government could compel TikTok to share data on American users, a claim the platform vehemently denies, with no evidence provided by the U.S. government to support such allegations.

TikTok has responded strongly, characterizing the bill as an outright ban and claiming it would infringe on the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and harm millions of businesses. The platform mobilized its users, prompting a flood of telephone calls to lawmakers’ offices, leading some to shut off their phones in response.

Lawmakers supporting the bill argue that TikTok’s access to a vast number of Americans makes it a valuable propaganda tool for the Chinese government. The bill also comes in the wake of investigations into ByteDance by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly surveilling American journalists.

TikTok, in an effort to allay concerns, has promised to segregate U.S. user data from its parent company and store it independently, monitored by external observers. However, critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the bill threatens freedom of speech and urge lawmakers to reject it.

The fate of the legislation now rests on a full vote in the House, with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise indicating plans for a vote next week. While the House appears to be moving swiftly, questions linger about the bill’s viability in the Senate, where no companion bill currently exists, and concerns about potential constitutional and free speech issues persist. The TikTok ban saga continues to unfold as lawmakers navigate the intersection of national security, free expression, and the influence of foreign-owned platforms in the digital age.