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Explainer-Will TikTok be banned in the US and what is next for the bill?

Published 03/14/2024, 02:54 PM
Updated 03/14/2024, 02:55 PM
© Reuters. A view shows the office of TikTok after the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app or face a ban, in Culver City, Califo
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill on Wednesday that would give TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app, or face a nationwide ban. Here is a look at the effort to ban the app, its chances in the U.S. Senate and what that would actually mean.

Why are US officials trying to ban TikTok?

U.S. officials warn TikTok's management is beholden to the Chinese government. For example, China could use the social media app to influence the 2024 U.S. elections, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a House of Representatives intelligence committee hearing this week.

The Department of Justice recently warned lawmakers that because ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing, TikTok’s American users are at risk because "foreign governments like the PRC (China) that are known for their surveillance and censorship."

What does the bill mean?

In an election year when many politicians do not want to be seen as soft on China, the bill is the latest in a series of moves responding to national security concerns. Officials in both political parties have raised red flags about TikTok along with other issues ranging from connected vehicles to advanced artificial intelligence chips to cranes at U.S. ports.

On the other side, many younger voters oppose a ban because they use the app to express their views and follow politics. Last month, President Joe Biden's re-election campaign joined TikTok, raising hopes among company officials that legislation was unlikely this year.

Who voted in favor of the ban?

The bill passed 352-65 in a bipartisan vote, with most Republicans members of Congress voting in favor of it. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives' select China committee and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat, introduced the measure March 5 with more than a dozen lawmakers.

A number of prominent Democrats in the House voted against the bill including House Democratic Whip Kathleen Clark, Arizona Senate candidate Ruben Gallego, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well as the top Democrats on the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Transportation and Intelligence committees.

"There are serious antitrust and privacy questions here, and any national security concerns should be laid out to the public prior to a vote," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Fifteen Republicans and 50 Democrats voted against the bill.

How would a ban be enforced?

If passed by the Senate in its current form and signed into law by Biden, the bill would give TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app.

It is unclear whether China would approve any sale or if TikTok's U.S. assets could be divested in six months.

If ByteDance failed to do so, app stores operated by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)'s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

In theory the ban would make it difficult, if not impossible, for users to access TikTok in the U.S.  

Is TikTok banned in other countries?

India banned TikTok along with dozens of other apps by Chinese developers in June 2020, saying they could compromise national security and integrity. Nepal's government banned the app in November 2023.

Several countries, including the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand have banned TikTok from federal government-owned devices.

What's next for TikTok in the U.S.?

© Reuters. A view shows the office of TikTok after the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app or face a ban, in Culver City, California, March 13, 2024.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

The TikTok bill passed by the House faces a more uncertain path in the Senate where some favor a different approach to regulating foreign-owned apps posing security concerns. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will review the legislation.

Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, who will play an important role in the Senate's next move, said she wants legislation "that could hold up in court," and is considering a separate bill, but is not sure what her next step is.

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