TikTok ban: House votes for bill that requires app to be sold or blocked

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban TikTok in the United States if its Chinese parent company ByteDance doesn’t sell.

It was approved by the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, following concerns the video app’s ownership structure is a national security threat.

It will now be considered by the Senate and then president Joe Biden, who has indicated that he would sign the bill.

From then, ByteDance will have six months to divest from TikTok. If it does not meet that target, the app will be blocked across the United States.

The vote comes just over a week since the bill was proposed following one public hearing with little debate, and after action in Congress had stalled for more than a year.

Last month, Biden’s re-election campaign joined TikTok, raising hopes in the firm that legislation was unlikely this year.

The measure is the latest in a series of moves in Washington to respond to US national security concerns about China, from connected vehicles to advanced artificial intelligence chips to cranes at US ports.

“This is a critical national security issue. The Senate must take this up and pass it,” No 2 House Republican Steve Scalise said on Twitter/X.

Shortly after passage, a bipartisan pair of senators, Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Marco Rubio, issued a joint statement saying they were encouraged by the bipartisan support for the bill and that they “look forward to working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law”.

However, a TikTok spokesperson said: “This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realise the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

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.

It is unclear whether China would approve any sale or if TikTok’s US assets could be divested in six months.

If ByteDance failed to do so, 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 has raised concerns about a future ban. It remains unclear if Tencent’s WeChat or other high-profile Chinese-owned apps would be affected by the legislation.

Any forced TikTok divestment 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 US judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok after the company sued.

Additional reporting by agencies