Congress Faces Off With TikTok Over Ownership

The House took steps this week that could ultimately see the popular social media app TikTok being banned on all devices throughout the country.

One of the lower chamber’s most powerful committees, the Energy and Commerce Committee, advanced a bill on Thursday that could essentially ban the app on all devices.

This is one of the most aggressive moves that politicians have made in attacking TikTok over fears that the Chinese government could use it as a tool to spy on Americans and influence content on it.

The bill advanced with a unanimous vote in the House committee Thursday. It would ultimately prohibit all U.S. app stores from hosting the social media platform unless it spins off from ByteDance, which is its parent company that is based in China.

TikTok currently has about 170 million users in America.

If the bill were enacted as written, ByteDance would have just less than five months — 165 days — to sell off TikTok. If they don’t divest the app by that time, app store operators such as Google and Apple would effectively be banned from making the app available for people to download.

In addition to TikTok, the bill contemplated prohibitions like this for other apps “controlled by foreign adversary companies.”

TikTok has already been targeted by local, state and federal governments over the last few years, but those bans have been relegated to just government-owned devices. This new bill would reach much further — to all personal devices, too.

Last year, ByteDance’s CEO, Shou Chew, testified in front of Congress saying that TikTok doesn’t pose a threat to Americans.

The chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said:

“Today, we will take the first step in creating long-overdue laws to protect Americans from the threat posed by apps controlled by our adversaries, and to send a very strong message that the U.S. will always stand up for our values and freedom.”

Democrats are behind the bill as well. The ranking Democrat on the panel, Representative Frank Pallone from New Jersey, said this bill was comparable to prior efforts that regulated airwaves in the U.S. He cited testimony that national security officials gave on Thursday during a hearing behind closed doors when he said:

“I take the concerns raised by the intelligence community this morning very seriously. They have asked Congress to give them more authority to act in these narrowly defined situations, and I believe that this bill will do that.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise confirmed that the bill will now head to a full floor vote next week. The legislation is expected to pass through the Republican-led House, but it will face an uncertain future in the Democratic-led Senate.

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, didn’t make a firm commitment about whether her committee would advance the bill to the full Senate.

In a statement, she said:

“I will be talking to my Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”