The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Wednesday night to prohibit federal employees from using the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok on government-owned devices. The bill (PDF) must now be approved by the US House of Representatives and President Joe Biden before it can become law. The House of Representatives must pass the Senate bill before the end of the current congressional session, which is expected to occur next week.
Authorities are concerned that ByteDance, the China-based parent company of TikTok, could share information gathered from U.S. users with the Chinese government. In November, FBI Director Chris Wray warned lawmakers that the Chinese government could use TikTok to launch "influence operations" or to "technically compromise" millions of devices.
The Senate, during the previous Congress, had unanimously approved legislation in August 2020 to prohibit TikTok from being used on government devices. The bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Josh Hawley, reintroduced the legislation in 2021. Hawley had previously stated, "TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices."
Many federal agencies, including the defense, Homeland Security, and state departments, already ban TikTok from government-owned devices.
Hilary McQuaide, a spokesperson for TikTok, said:
"We're disappointed that so many states are enacting policies based on false, politically-charged claims about TikTok. It's unfortunate that the many state agencies, offices, and universities that use TikTok in those states will no longer be able to use it to build communities and connect with constituents."
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump attempted to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked the app's use in the United States. However, he lost a series of court battles over the measure. In the same year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, had ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok due to concerns that U.S. user data could be passed on to the Chinese government. However, ByteDance has not yet complied with this order.
On Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers also introduced a bill that imposed even more sanctions on Huawei and other Chinese 5G companies to restrict them from accessing U.S. financial systems to stop the Chinese firms from "stealing Americans' data".
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