A US Senate committee overseeing homeland security unanimously approved a proposal on Wednesday to ban the use of TikTok, the Chinese-owned short video app, on government-issued devices.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to support the legislation that was first introduced in March by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri.
The No TikTok on Government Devices Act would prohibit federal employees, officers, lawmakers and contractors from downloading or using TikTok and all other apps developed by its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance on any device issued by the US government or government corporation.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The legislation will now move to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber. If passed, it will be conciliated with a version that has already passed the House of Representatives, 336-71, as an amendment to the US$741 billion National Defence Authorisation Act, the annual defence budget legislation.
If the bill passes both chambers, it is likely to become law; senior Trump administration officials have recently ramped up efforts to highlight the threat the video app may pose.
TikTok has become a user sensation around the world, including among teenagers and young adults in the US. About 60 per cent of its 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said last year.
The US has been troubled by a Chinese law introduced in 2017 that said Chinese companies have an obligation to support and cooperate in the country's national intelligence work.
This month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US was “certainly” exploring a ban, citing alleged concerns that the app had shared user data with the Chinese government in Beijing.
People should use TikTok, Pompeo said, “only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”.
Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign ran Facebook ads warning about TikTok.
The same law was cited when the administration moved to bar government agencies from buying devices or systems from Chinese firms including Huawei Technologies and ZTE.
Bytedance has repeatedly denied accusations that TikTok harvests data for the Chinese government and says it stores Americans’ data in the US and Singapore, not in China.
In response to the Senate bill’s advance, a TikTok spokesperson said that “millions of American families use TikTok for entertainment and creative expression, which we recognise is not what federal government devices are for”.
The company has “no higher priority than promoting a safe app experience that protects our users' privacy”, the spokesperson said.
During the introduction of his bill Hawley called TikTok “a major security risk” that had “no place on government devices”.
The prohibition “is a necessary step to protect the security of the United States and the data security of all Americans”, Hawley said.
The US Departments of Defence, State, and Homeland Security had already prohibited employees from downloading the TikTok app on their government-issued devices, Hawley said in March.
The departments “even advised them to have their children uninstall it from their personal devices”, Hawley noted.
Register to the SCMP Conversations: National Security Law webinar series and enjoy an exclusive 20% discount. Over the course of THREE WEBINARS, this series is designed for the global audience and will bring together corporate leaders, lawmakers, diplomats and academics from the East and West to dive deep into answering questions and the concerns of the global audience, while discussing what the law means for the future of Hong Kong and how it will impact global trade, economics and diplomacy. REGISTER NOW.
More from South China Morning Post:
- The rise of TikTok, why teenagers love it, and how its links to China may see US lawmakers ban it
- Australia scrutinises Chinese-owned TikTok over foreign interference, data privacy
- Some US investors of ByteDance, including Sequoia Capital, said to consider buying a majority stake in TikTok
This article US Senate panel unanimously approves ban on TikTok on government devices first appeared on South China Morning Post