TikTok could be banned after House panel approves bill

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The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted on party lines to advance legislation that would let President Joe Biden order a nationwide ban on the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

The committee’s 24 Republicans voted to approve the bill, which would give the executive branch authority to issue a ban on the video sharing app, as well as any other app considered a security risk.

The 16 Democrats on the panel voted against the measure, with Ranking Member Gregory Meeks saying he opposed the bill because 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”.

Members of both parties have called for a ban on the application, which is used by over 100 million Americans and countless more people around the world, citing the company’s Chinese ownership, which makes it subject to laws compelling the company to turn user data over to the Chinese government upon request.

More than 30 American states, Canada, and the European Union have separately banned the app from use on government-owned devices, while Mr Biden and the White House have enacted an executive branch-wide ban which gives agencies 30 days to remove TikTok from any federally-owned devices or computer systems.

In response, a company spokesperson said a ban on TikTok in the US would be “a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion people who use our service worldwide”.

The bill would still need to be passed by the full House and the Senate before it could be signed into law. Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael McCaul said he expects the full House to vote on the measure this month.

TikTok has been the subject of a more than two-year review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency body that approves foreign company operations and transactions in the US. In 2020, the committee recommended that ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, divest it because of fears it could be used to gather data on Americans and pass it to the Chinese government.

Jenna Leventoff, a senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, decried the legislation in a statement.

“We’re disappointed that the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to approve a bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States, in violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights. We urge legislators to vote no on this vague, overbroad, and unconstitutional bill,” she said.

With additional reporting by agencies