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U.S. House votes to ban TikTok if Chinese owner doesn’t sell app

Click to play video: 'TikTok: U.S. House passes bill that could lead to ban nationwide'
TikTok: U.S. House passes bill that could lead to ban nationwide
WATCH: U.S. House passes bill that could lead to ban nationwide. Reggie Cecchini has the details – Mar 13, 2024

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday in support of proposed legislation to force ByteDance, a Chinese company that owns TikTok, to either sell the app within six months or be banned from operating it in the country.

Lawmakers overwhelming voted across the aisle to pass the bill, with 352 for and 65 against.

Roughly 170 million Americans use the short video-sharing app. The vote does not mean the proposed law is now in effect, but marks a major milestone in the push to move it forward in the legislative process.

It’s the latest measures in a series of moves in Washington to respond to U.S. national security concerns about China, from connected vehicles to advanced artificial intelligence chips to cranes at U.S. ports.

Republicans and Democrats were mostly united behind the bill.

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Click to play video: 'TikTok ban: Shanghai residents question U.S. motive to target Chinese-owned app'
TikTok ban: Shanghai residents question U.S. motive to target Chinese-owned app

The Republican chair of the committee that developed the bill, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, speaking before the vote, said “foreign adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party pose the greatest national threat of our time. TikTok’s access to 170 million American users makes it a valuable propaganda tool for the CCP to exploit.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Frank Pollone, said Chinese law allows the CCP to compel companies to share data.

“This means that the CCP has the ability to compromise device security, maliciously access American’s data, promote pro-communist propaganda and undermine our nation’s interests,” he said.

In a previous statement to Global News, TikTok said the “legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive five million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs.”

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Click to play video: 'TikTok ban? U.S. bill could block the popular app'
TikTok ban? U.S. bill could block the popular app

“This is not an attempt to ban TikTok, it’s an attempt to make TikTok better” Democrat Nancy Pelosi said, speaking to small business owner concerns ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Another Democrat, Syndey Kamlager-Dove, said the bill “seriously undermines civil liberties by essentially banning” the popular platform and that it seriously expands the office of the president’s ability to ban tech companies with “zero Congressional oversight.”

The House’s vote sends it to the U.S. Senate, where the bill’s future is less certain because some senators have said they favour different approaches to regulating foreign-owned apps.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not indicated how he plans to vote.

But should the Senate also vote it through, President Joe Biden said last week he would sign the bill, officially known as the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.”

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Click to play video: 'Congress votes to ban TikTok in the U.S. if Chinese owner doesn’t sell app'
Congress votes to ban TikTok in the U.S. if Chinese owner doesn’t sell app

Biden’s campaign joined TikTok last month.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday the goal was ending Chinese ownership, not banning TikTok.

“Do we want TikTok, as a platform, to be owned by an American company or owned by China? Do we want the data from TikTok – children’s data, adults’ data – to be going, to be staying here in America or going to China?” he said.

Click to play video: 'U.S. Senators voice concerns about TikTok for national security'
U.S. Senators voice concerns about TikTok for national security

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday on a previously scheduled trip to talk to senators, a source briefed on the matter said.

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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 sell it, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat but was blocked by the courts. In recent days he had raised concerns about a ban. It remains unclear if Tencent’s WeChat or other high-profile Chinese-owned apps could face a ban under the legislation.

Any forced TikTok divestment from the U.S. would almost certainly face legal challenges, which the company would need to file within 165 days of the bill being signed by the president. In November, a U.S. judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok use after the company sued.

TikTok is the fastest-growing but least-trusted social media app in Canada, according to a Toronto Metropolitan University report.

—with files from Reuters’ David Shepardson and Global News’ Sean Previl.

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