The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that could give President Joe Biden the ability to ban TikTok. This bill, known as the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act, was introduced Friday by Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), then fast-tracked to a vote on Wednesday, which passed 24-16; all Democrats voted no.
Before the bill gets to Biden, it still needs to pass in the Senate, as well as the rest of the House. Though Biden has said he is unsure if legislators would ban TikTok, the government has taken the precaution of banning the app on government-issued devices; several state governments have done the same. In just the past week, Canada and the European Commission have enacted similar measures to prohibit government staff from using TikTok on work devices.
McCaul’s bill quotes FBI Director Christopher Wray, who stated in December that he has concerns about TikTok.
“Its parent company is controlled by the Chinese government. And it gives them the potential to leverage the app in ways that I think should concern us,” Wray said, as quoted in the DATA Act.
TikTok is owned by the private China-based company ByteDance. TikTok representatives have repeatedly said that Chinese government officials cannot access American user data.
“A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide,” said TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter in an emailed statement. “We’re disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward, despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok.”
Oberwetter added that TikTok Inc., which operates the platform in the United States., is a U.S. company subject to federal law. Representatives for TikTok have also stated that they would not hand over user data to the Chinese government, even if they were asked.
Government bodies worry, though, that Chinese officials could access this data whether ByteDance wants to share it or not. An investigation last year revealed that engineers in China had access to American TikTok data as recently as January 2022. TikTok then said it would move U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers stored in the United States. Another investigation, corroborated by ByteDance, found that a small group of engineers inappropriately accessed two U.S. journalists’ data; they planned to use these journalists’ location data to determine if they crossed paths with any ByteDance employees who may have leaked information to these reporters.