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Senate passes TikTok ban bill, sending it to President Biden’s desk

President Joe Biden has agreed to sign the bill once passed by both chambers, which will give China-based. ByteDance up to a year to sell TikTok or face an effective ban.



Senate passes TikTok ban bill, sending it to President Biden’s desk
Senate passes TikTok ban bill, sending it to President Biden’s desk

A bill that would force China-based company ByteDance to sell TikTok — or else face a US ban of the platform — is all but certain to become law after the Senate passed a foreign aid package including the measure.

It now heads to President Joe Biden, who already committed to signing the TikTok legislation should it make it through both chambers of Congress. The House passed the foreign aid package that includes the TikTok bill on Saturday.

Once signed by the president, ByteDance would have up to a year to complete a sale of TikTok or face an effective ban for the platform in the US. The bill gives ByteDance an initial nine months and gives the president discretion to extend it another three should there be progress toward a deal. Still, legal challenges could possibly delay enforcement.

The Senate vote came together due to clever political maneuvering in the House, which has now twice voted to pass the TikTok legislation. The first time, House lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill when brought as a standalone measure with a shorter divestment timeframe of six months. But key Senate leaders remained noncommittal about its future in that chamber.

By packaging it in the high-priority foreign aid package, the House effectively forced the Senate to take up the TikTok issue earlier than they might have otherwise. Extending the timeline for a deal to happen also secured more support in the Senate. The bill passed 79–18.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials are concerned that TikTok’s ownership by a China-based company could endanger the data of its US users. That’s mostly due to a Chinese national security law that can compel companies based there to hand over internal information. TikTok itself is based in Singapore, and the company says it doesn’t store US information in China. Some lawmakers have also worried that the Chinese government could influence what types of messages US users see and felt that TikTok’s campaign to mobilize users to call Congress to oppose the bill only validated those fears.

“Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok or any other individual company,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations, harming vulnerable Americans, our servicemen and women, and our U.S. government personnel.”

“The truth is, these Chinese companies at the end of the day, they don’t owe their obligation to their customers, or their shareholders, but they owe it to the PRC government,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said. “In the context of social media platforms used by nearly half of Americans, it’s not hard to imagine how a platform that facilitates so much commerce, political discourse, and social debate could be covertly manipulated to serve the goals of an authoritarian regime, one with a long track record of censorship, transnational repression, and promotion of disinformation.”

Warner added that TikTok’s earlier proposed solution to concerns around its data governance, Project Texas, were inadequate. “Project Texas would still allow TikTok’s algorithm, source code, and development activities to remain in China,” Warner said. “They would remain so under ByteDance control and subject to Chinese government exploitation.”

“Many Americans, particularly young Americans, are rightfully skeptical. At the end of the day, they’ve not seen what Congress has seen.”

But he also addressed the concerns of many young Americans who use TikTok and fear this legislation means it will go away. “I want to make clear to all Americans, this is not an effort to take your voice away,” Warner said. “Many Americans, particularly young Americans, are rightfully skeptical. At the end of the day, they’ve not seen what Congress has seen. They’ve not been in the classified briefings that Congress has held, which have delved more deeply into some of the threats posed by foreign control of TikTok.”

“But what they have seen, beyond even this bill, is Congress’ failure to enact meaningful consumer protections on big tech, and may cynically view this as a diversion, or worse, a concession to U.S. social media platforms,” Warner continued. “To those young Americans, I want to say we hear your concern. And we hope that TikTok will continue under new ownership, American or otherwise.”

“I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week,” President Biden said in an official statement released shortly after passage in the Senate.

According to Bloomberg, TikTok previously told employees that if the law is passed, the company will challenge it in court.

Update, April 23rd: The article has been updated with an official White House statement.