US Senate passes bill to ban TikTok if Chinese owner doesn’t sell it

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law

The US Senate has passed a bill to ban TikTok in the country if its Chinese owner, ByteDance, doesn’t sell it within the next nine months to a year.

The bill, which president Joe Biden is expected to sign into law, stemmed from concerns among US lawmakers about potential data access and surveillance by China. It had already passed the US House of Representatives over the weekend.

“For years we have allowed the Chinese Communist Party to control one of the most popular apps in America that was dangerously shortsighted,” senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said.

“A new law is going to require its Chinese owner to sell the app. This is a good move for America.”

TikTok has told employees that it will fight attempts to ban the app in the US.

The company’s head of public policy sent a memo to staff saying the bill was a “clear violation of the First Amendment rights of TikTok’s 170 million American users”.

“We’ll continue to fight,” Michael Beckerman added. “This is the beginning, not the end of this long process.”

If ByteDance fails to divest TikTok, it could face severe restrictions impacting app stores and web hosting services.

Some senators, however, expressed concern about the potential abuse of authority and infringement on free speech.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey said it would be hard, if not impossible, for ByteDance to divest by early 2025, according to Reuters.

He added that a sale would be one of the most complicated and expensive transactions in history, requiring months if not years of due diligence.

The company has said that the bill would “trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate seven million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24bn to the US economy, annually”.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, there was a push to compel ByteDance to sell its American operations to a US company. Microsoft engaged in discussions for the app’s acquisition in August 2020, but a deal could not be struck.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella later described the talks over the acquisition of TikTok as the “strangest thing” he had ever worked on.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a campaign on Monday urging people to “tell Congress to stop the TikTok ban”. “Instead of giving the president the power to ban entire social media platforms based on their country of origin, our representatives should focus on what matters – protecting our data no matter who is collecting it,” a new page on its website states.

Tik Tok “is used by hundreds of millions of people to express themselves online, and is an instrumental tool for community building and holding those in power accountable,” the foundation said. “This bill must be stopped.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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