A bill barring federal employees from using the Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok “on any device issued by the United States or a government corporation,” was passed by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday by voice vote.
It must also receive consent from the US House of Representatives before being forwarded to President Joe Biden for approval. However, as the current congressional session is anticipated to end next week, this needs to happen before then.
The vote is the most recent move by American lawmakers to impose restrictions on Chinese firms due to concerns over Beijing’s potential use of those firms to spy on Americans.
The action comes as state governments, particularly those governed by Republicans, have taken steps to limit the use of the app on state-owned devices. Since the beginning of this month, eleven states – thirteen in total – have taken action against TikTok, which ByteDance, a Beijing-owned company, owns.
“TikTok is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a major security risk to the United States, and until it is forced to sever ties with China completely, it has no place on government devices,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said in a statement. “States across the U.S. are banning TikTok on government devices. It’s time for Joe Biden and the Democrats to help do the same.”
In addition to Hawley’s efforts, a bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could even forbid the app from being used in the United States considering the app’s potential threat to national security.
“The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok,” Rubio said in a statement about the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act. “This isn’t about creative videos—this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day.”
The Defense, Homeland Security, and State departments, among other governmental agencies, already prohibit TikTok from being used on devices that belong to the government. “TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices,” Hawley said when he reintroduced his bill last year.
TikTok, however, has stated that the concerns are primarily brought on due to false information and that the company is happy to meet with officials to discuss its procedures.
“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States,” the company said Wednesday.
Amongst the states taking action against TikTok are Texas, Maryland, South Dakota, Alabama, and Utah.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump made an effort to prevent new users from installing TikTok and to restrict other transactions that would have effectively blocked the usage of the app in the United States but was not successful after a string of legal fights.
In that same year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – a significant national security body of the U.S. government – ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok due to concerns that U.S. user data might be given to the Chinese government. However, ByteDance has not complied with the order.
There have been months of talks between CFIUS and TikTok to reach a national security agreement, but it doesn’t seem like anything will be finalized before the end of the year.