US Senate Votes to Ban TikTok App on Government-Owned Phones

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The US Senate voted to ban the hugely popular TikTok video-sharing app from all government-issued phones and other devices as the Biden administration considers restrictions on the Chinese-owned platform.

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The measure, which was approved unanimously, would have to be passed by the US House before Congress leaves for the year.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, underscores fears that TikTok and its parent, ByteDance Ltd., could share information on US users with Chinese authorities. The Senate also passed the ban in the last Congress.

“TikTok is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a major security risk to the United States, and until it is forced to sever ties with China completely, it has no place on government devices,” Hawley said in a statement.

The legislation includes exceptions for “law enforcement activities, national security interests and activities, and security researchers,” under certain circumstances, according to the text of the bill.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee that China’s government could use TikTok to control millions of users’ data or software, and its recommendation algorithm — which determines which videos users will see next — “could be used for influence operations if they so choose.”

“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially — and I’m going to shorthand here — basically do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” Wray told lawmakers.

After the vote, Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said in a statement: “Once again, Senator Hawley has moved forward with legislation to ban TikTok on government devices, a proposal which does nothing to advance US national security interests.”

“We hope that rather than continuing down that road, he will urge the administration to move forward on an agreement that would actually address his concerns,” Oberwetter added.

The Biden administration has been attempting to forge an agreement with TikTok that would allow the video-sharing site to keep operating in the US by enacting additional safeguards on how US user data is stored, according to people familiar with the discussions who requested not to be identified discussing a national security matter.

That effort has faltered.

A final deal has been held up at the Justice Department, and questions linger over whether any deal could protect all US users’ data from misuse. A plan would be expected to build on an arrangement announced by TikTok in June under which US user traffic is routed through servers maintained by Oracle Corp.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.

A plan by the Trump administration to force ByteDance to sell stakes in the app to US companies fell through.

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley, Alex Barinka and Jennifer Jacobs.

(Updates with Hawley quote, White House asked for comment, starting in fourth paragraph.)

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