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TikTok Plans Legal Battle as US Senate Passes Divest-or-Ban Bill

Experts say that if a sale of TikTok does go through, it would be one of the most complicated and expensive transactions in history, requiring months if not years of due diligence

China's flags are seen near a TikTok logo in this illustration picture
China's flags are seen near a TikTok logo in this illustration picture. Photo: Reuters


TikTok and the app’s users in the United States are expected to mount a legal battle in the coming weeks against the passing of a bill requiring China’s ByteDance to either divest from the app or face a ban in the US.

The US Senate voted by a wide margin late on Tuesday in favour of the legislation which was tucked into a larger $95 billion package to provide foreign aid to Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel.

US President Joe Biden said in a statement immediately after the bill’s passage that he will sign it on Wednesday.


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TikTok is set to challenge the bill on First Amendment grounds and TikTok users are also expected to take legal action.

A lawsuit brought on by TikTok users in Montana last year led a US judge to block a ban on TikTok in the US state, citing free speech grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, said banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would “set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms. …If the United States now bans a foreign-owned platform, that will invite copycat measures by other countries.”

The TikTok divestment directive won fast-track approval after being introduced just weeks ago.

The bill is driven by widespread worries among US lawmakers that China could access Americans’ data or surveil them with the app.

But TikTok says it has not shared and would not share US user data with the Chinese government. The app did not immediately comment but has told employees it would quickly go to court to try to block the legislation.

“This is the beginning, not the end of this long process,” TikTok told staff on Saturday in an email seen by Reuters.

The app had last week criticised the move to tuck in the divestment-or-ban bill as part of a larger aid package.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually,” TikTok Policy had posted on X (formerly known as Twitter).

US lawmakers have previously argued that the bill is not aimed at banning TikTok as it gives China’s ByteDance the option to divest from the app over the next nine months to a year.

It is unlikely, however, that China will allow the selling of the widely-used app. Even if Beijing does allow ByteDance to divest, it could still block the the sale of TikTok’s algorithm — claiming intellectual property. That would mean any buyer of the app would have to rebuild a critical technology of the app — one that was key to its success.

Asked about the Senate’s vote, the Chinese foreign ministry referred on Wednesday to comments the ministry made in March when the House of Representatives passed a similar bill.

At the time, the ministry criticised the legislation, arguing “though the US has never found any evidence of TikTok posing a threat to the US’ national security, it has never stopped going after TikTok.”


Years of due diligence ahead

“For years we’ve 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.”

The four-year battle over TikTok, which is used by 170 million people in the United States, is just one front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said Beijing had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

Even as legal challenges loom, the new legislation is likely to give the Biden administration a stronger legal footing to ban TikTok if ByteDance fails to divest the app, experts say.

If ByteDance failed to divest TikTok, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications or TikTok’s website.

The bill would also give the White House new tools to ban or force the sale of other foreign-owned apps it deems to be security threats.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned the bill “provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

Once the bill is signed into law, ByteDance will have 270 days to divest TikTok’s US operations with a possible three-month extension if there are signs a deal is progressing.



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Democratic Senator Ed Markey said it would be hard, if not impossible, for ByteDance to divest by early 2025, adding that a sale would be one of the most complicated and expensive transactions in history, requiring months if not years of due diligence.

“We should be very clear about the likely outcome of this law. It’s really just a TikTok ban,” he said. “Censorship is not who we are as a people. We should not downplay or deny this trade-off.”

The bill could also be an issue in the November presidential campaign, with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urging young voters to consider a possible TikTok ban.

During his presidency in 2020,Trump was blocked by the courts in his bid to block TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent, in the United States.


  • Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena


Also read:

ByteDance, TikTok’s $7m Lobbying Bid to Derail US Ban – CNBC

Top US Republican Senator Backs Forced Sale of TikTok

TikTok Ban Would be Hypocrisy, Apple Co-founder Says – CNN

China Says US TikTok Bill an ‘Act of Bullying’ That Will Backfire

TikTok Ban Would Help ‘Enemy of the People’ Facebook: Trump


Vishakha Saxena

Vishakha Saxena is the Multimedia and Social Media Editor at Asia Financial. She has worked as a digital journalist since 2013, and is an experienced writer and multimedia producer. As a trader and investor, she is keenly interested in new economy, emerging markets and the intersections of finance and society. You can write to her at [email protected]


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