US Senate votes to ban TikTok app on government-owned phones

(Bloomberg) — The US Senate has voted to ban wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok from all phones and other government-provided devices as the Biden administration considers restrictions on the Chinese-owned platform.

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The measure, approved unanimously, should be approved by the United States House before the departure of Congress.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, underscores fears that TikTok and its parent, ByteDance Ltd., may share information about US users with Chinese authorities. The Senate also passed the ban in the last Congress.

“TikTok is a Trojan horse for the Communist Party of China. It is a major security risk to the United States and until it is forced to completely sever ties with China, it has no place on government devices,” Hawley said in a statement.

The legislation includes exceptions for “law enforcement, national security interests and activities, and security researchers,” under certain circumstances, according to the text of the bill.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee that the Chinese government could use TikTok to audit the data or software of millions of users and its recommendation algorithm – which determines which videos users will watch after – “could be used for influence operations if they wanted to.

“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are essentially required – and I am shortening this here – to do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” Wray told the legislators.

After the vote, TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement, “Once again, Senator Hawley has moved forward with legislation to ban TikTok on government devices, a proposal that does nothing to advance national security interests.” of the United States”.

“We hope that instead of continuing down this path, he will urge the administration to move forward on a deal that actually addresses his concerns,” Oberwetter added.

The Biden administration has attempted to strike a deal with TikTok that would allow the video-sharing site to continue operating in the US while putting in place additional safeguards over how US user data is stored, according to people familiar with the discussions that have asked not to be identified while discussing a matter of national security.

This effort has faltered.

A final settlement has been held up with the Justice Department, and questions remain as to whether a settlement could protect all US user data from misuse. A plan is expected to build on an agreement TikTok announced in June whereby US user traffic is routed through servers operated by Oracle Corp.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

A plan by the Trump administration to force ByteDance to sell stakes in the app to US companies has failed.

–With assistance from Daniel Flatley, Alex Barinka and Jennifer Jacobs.

(Updates with Hawley quote, White House requested comment, starting with the fourth paragraph.)

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