The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted Wednesday on partisan lines to give President Joe Biden the power to ban Chinese-owned TikTok.
If successful, this could be the most far-reaching US restriction on any social media app.
Lawmakers voted 24 to 16 to approve a measure to give the administration new powers to ban the ByteDance-owned app, which is used by more than 100 million Americans, as well as other apps deemed security threats.
“TikTok is a national security threat… It’s time to act,” said Rep. Michael McCall, Republican chairman of the committee that sponsored the bill.
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) access to all their personal information. It’s a spy ball in their phone.
Democrats opposed the bill, saying it was rushed and required due diligence through discussion and consultation with experts.
The bill does not specify exactly how the ban would work, but it does give Biden the power to ban any TikTok transactions, which in turn could prevent anyone in the United States from accessing the app or downloading it on their phones.
The bill would also require Biden to impose a ban on any organization that “may” share sensitive personal data with a Chinese-influenced organization.
In recent weeks, TikTok has come under increasing criticism over concerns that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.
The White House this week gave government agencies 30 days to make sure TikTok is not installed on any federal devices and systems. More than 30 states in the US, Canada, and European Union political institutions have also banned TikTok downloads on state-owned devices.
“The US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the one billion people who use our service around the world,” a TikTok spokeswoman said after the vote.
The Biden administration has not said whether it supports the bill or not, nor has it answered whether it believes Biden now has the legal authority to ban TikTok.
“TikTok is a challenge and a challenge — and so we have concerns about it as it is about Americans data,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.
The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, unanimously recommended that ByteDance get rid of TikTok in 2020 over concerns that user data could be shared with the Chinese government.
TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating data security requirements for more than two years. TikTok said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on strict data security measures and denies allegations of espionage.
TikTok CEO Show Zi Chu is due to appear before the U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23 after meeting with lawmakers last month on Capitol Hill.
The fate of the latter measure is still unclear, and there are significant obstacles to be faced before it becomes law.
The bill will be put to a vote in the House of Representatives this month, where it must be passed by the full assembly and the Democratic-controlled US Senate before it can be passed to Biden.
This isn’t the first time a Chinese app has faced government bans over its connection to Beijing.
The UK Parliament’s TikTok account was shut down in August after MPs raised concerns about the social network’s ties to China.
India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps in 2020 due to heightened border tensions.
MORE: TikTok will automatically limit screen time to 60 minutes for children under 18.
MORE: US Gives Agencies 30 Days To Clean TikTok From Government Devices