US lawmakers announced a bipartisan legislation on Tuesday to ban the popular social media app TikTok in the country, amid fears of spying by the Chinese government.
The legislation, announced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, would block all transactions from any social media company in or under the influence of China and Russia.
“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,” Rubio said in a press release. “We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.”
A companion bill was sponsored by Republican congressman Mike Gallagher and Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi in the US House of Representatives, Rubio’s office said.
US lawmakers and security agencies have repeatedly voiced concerns about the app and its data. A recent report by Buzzfeed, in which leaked recordings revealed how China accessed data of TikTok’s US users, cemented those concerns. “Everything is seen in China,” the report said.
Several other countries across the world have raised concerns about the short-video app, its content and the security of its data. India was the first country to ban the app in 2020 citing national security concerns.
Calls to ban the app have also been made in Australia and Canada, while the UK is mulling a $29 million fine on TikTok for failing to protect children’s privacy.
Most recently, Taiwan’s Ministry of Digital Affairs announced it was considering a nationwide ban on TikTok, after prohibiting state-owned devices from running the app.
“It is troubling that rather than encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review of TikTok, some members of Congress have decided to push for a politically-motivated ban that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the company would continue to brief members of Congress on the plans that are “well underway” to “further secure our platform in the United States.”
The US bill comes as scrutiny of TikTok has grown in Washington in recent weeks. Alabama and Utah on Monday joined other US states prohibiting the use of TikTok on state government devices and computer networks due to national security concerns.
At a hearing last month, FBI director Chris Wray said TikTok’s US operations raise national security concerns, flagging the risk that the Chinese government could harness it to influence users or control their devices.
Efforts to ban the app have been underway since 2020, when the then-President Donald Trump attempted to block new users from downloading TikTok. He also attempted to ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked the app’s use in the United States but lost a series of court battles over the measure.
The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that US user data could be passed on to China’s communist government.
CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks for months aiming to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of TikTok’s more than 100 million users.
- Reuters, with inputs from Vishakha Saxena