U.S. House panel approves bill giving Biden power to ban TikTok

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(Reuters) – The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on Wednesday along party lines to give President Joe Biden the power to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, in the latest setback for the popular video sharing site.

Lawmakers voted 24 to 16 to approve the measure to grant the administration new powers to ban the ByteDance-owned app – which is used by over 100 million Americans – as well as other apps considered security risks.

Democrats on the committee opposed the bill, which was sponsored by Republican committee chair Michael McCaul.

TikTok has come under increasing fire in recent weeks over fears that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.

The White House this week gave government agencies 30 days to ensure that TikTok is not on any federal devices and systems. More than 30 U.S. states, Canada and European Union policy institutions have also banned TikTok from being loaded onto state-owned devices.

The fate of the latest measure – which give Biden new powers to order a TikTok ban – is still uncertain and faces significant hurdles before it would come law. The bill would need to be passed by the full House and U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, before it can go to Biden.

“A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion people who use our service worldwide,” a TikTok spokeswoman said after the vote.

McCaul told Reuters after the vote that he expects the TikTok bill will be taken up on the floor “fairly soon” and voted on by the full House this month.

Representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the committee, said he strongly opposed the legislation 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.”

The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 unanimously recommended ByteDance divest TikTok because of fears that user data could be passed on to China’s government.

TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating for more than two years on data security requirements. TikTok said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.

Meeks said McCaul’s bill is “dangerously overbroad” and would require U.S. sanctions on Korean and Taiwanese companies that supply Chinese companies with semiconductor chips and other equipment because of how broadly restrictions would apply on data transfers to China.

The American Civil Liberties Union also urged Congress not to ban TikTok, saying it would violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans.

Last month, Biden said he was not sure if Washington would ban TikTok.

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew is due to appear before the U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23.

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