WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate late on Wednesday passed a bill by voice vote to ban federal employees from using the Chinese-owned short video sharing app TikTok on government-owned devices.
The bill still needs to be approved by the US House of Representatives before it goes to President Joe Biden for approval. The House of Representatives would have to pass the Senate bill before the end of the current session of Congress, which is expected next week.
The vote is the latest move by US lawmakers to crack down on Chinese companies amid national security fears that Beijing could use them to spy on Americans.
The Senate action comes after North Dakota and Iowa this week joined a growing number of US states in banning TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, from using state-owned devices over concerns that data could be handed over to the Chinese government.
During the last congressional session, the Senate unanimously approved legislation in August 2020 that would prevent TikTok from accessing government devices. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, was reintroduced into the legislation in 2021.
Many federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State, already prohibit TikTok from using government-owned devices. “TikTok is a serious security risk to the United States and has no place on government devices,” Hawley said earlier.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued directives prohibiting executive branch agencies from downloading the app to any government-issued device. About a dozen US states have taken similar action, including Alabama and Utah this week.
TikTok has said the concern is largely due to misinformation and is happy to meet with policymakers to discuss the company’s practices.
“We are disappointed that so many states are rushing to political power to enact policies based on baseless lies about TikTok that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States,” the company said Wednesday.
Other states taking similar action include Texas, Maryland and South Dakota.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that would ban TikTok outright in the United States, increasing pressure on ByteDance amid U.S. fears the app could be used to spy on Americans and censor content. Rubio is also a sponsor of Hawley’s TikTok government device ban bill.
The legislation would block all transactions from or under the influence of any social media company in China and Russia, Rubio’s office said.
At a hearing last month, FBI Director Chris Weis said TikTok’s operations in the U.S. pose a national security concern.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump tried to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other deals that would have effectively blocked the app’s use in the United States, but lost several court battles over the measure.
The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a powerful national security body, ordered ByteDance to divest from TikTok in 2020 over fears that US user data could be handed over to the Chinese government, although ByteDance has not done so.
CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks for months to reach a national security deal to protect the data of TikTok’s more than 100 million users, but it appears no deal will be reached by the end of the year.
Reports by David Shepardson; Edited by Leslie Adler, Josiah Cao, and Kenneth Maxwell
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