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Business News/ News / World/  TikTok ban clears Congressional test, but faces Senate hurdle

WASHINGTON—A bill aimed at banning TikTok in the U.S. was approved by a Republican-led House committee Wednesday, but the legislation faces a tough path ahead in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the measure 24 to 16 vote along party lines. The bill, known as the DATA Act (for “Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries"), would effectively block U.S. interactions with the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Tex.), the committee chairman, termed TikTok “a modern-day Trojan horse" of the Chinese Communist Party, noting that the company would be required to share user data with Beijing if demanded.

“It’s a spy balloon on your phone," he added, a reference to the suspected Chinese reconnaissance balloon that the U.S. recently shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

Democrats on the panel complained that the legislation was being rushed as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a multiagency panel known as Cfius, is negotiating with TikTok on measures to address the potential security risk.

“The legislation before us today is unvetted and dangerously overbroad," said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.), the committee’s top Democrat.

TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., has repeatedly said it wouldn’t share its data with the Chinese government.

“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," TikTok said in a 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."

The legislation is also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said a ban “would violate the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans who use the app to express themselves daily."

The bill calls for the Treasury secretary to issue a directive prohibiting U.S. transactions with any entity that might transfer sensitive personal data to an entity controlled or influenced by China—a measure that the bill specifically targets at TikTok but could be used for other apps as well.

In addition, the legislation directs the president to impose sanctions on any entity that operates a connected software application that is subject to the influence of China and might facilitate Chinese surveillance, propaganda or censorship—another provision aimed at TikTok.

The legislation allows the president to waive sanctions under some circumstances, and calls for the president to report to Congress on whether TikTok, ByteDance or any of its subsidiaries or successors meets the criteria for sanctions.

While Democratic resistance looms in the Senate, the bill nonetheless comes as the latest in a series of actions targeting TikTok globally.

The U.S. recently banned TikTok from government-issued smartphones and other devices, actions that were followed by the European Union, Canada and many states.

Former President Donald Trump first targeted TikTok as a security risk, but his efforts were struck down in federal courts—partly because of obscure laws known as the Berman amendments dating back to the final years of the Cold War that allow films, books and music to flow freely between the U.S. and hostile foreign countries.

The draft measure would carve out an exception to the Berman amendments. Mr. McCaul, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes are needed to give the federal government necessary tools to address security risks posed by apps such as TikTok.

“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the [Chinese Communist Party] a backdoor to all their personal information," Mr. McCaul said in a statement.

Republicans have also complained that the negotiations between Cfius and TikTok on security measures to address risks have dragged on too long.

Mr. Meeks offered an amendment to the bill that would have allowed the long-running Cfius process to continue, but would require the Biden administration to report regularly to Congress on whether TikTok would be subject to sanctions, including a block on all transactions with it. His amendment and others proposed by Democrats were struck down along party lines.

The White House, meanwhile, recently signaled that it might engage more actively with Congress on the issue.

“We’ve been clear about our concerns about apps like TikTok," said White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton aboard Air Force One en route to Virginia Beach, Va. on Tuesday. “We’ll continue to look at other actions that we can take, and that includes how to work with Congress on this issue further."

Write to John D. McKinnon at

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