Bill That Could Ban Tiktok In US Moves Forward, as Biden Says He Will Support It

March 13

  A bill with the potential to effectively ban TikTok in the United States unless its parent company, ByteDance, divests it, is swiftly advancing through the House of Representatives. Reports suggest that President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind the legislation, despite mounting opposition from civil liberties and technology industry factions. TikTok has launched a vigorous campaign urging its users to pressure lawmakers against passing the bill.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which recently passed unanimously in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is set for a full House vote imminently. If enacted, ByteDance would have approximately five months to divest its TikTok holdings; otherwise, the app's availability on digital platforms and web hosting services in the US would become illegal.

President Biden has indicated his readiness to endorse the legislation, stating that he would sign it if passed by Congress. However, no corresponding bill has emerged in the US Senate, and Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, has not committed to introducing one.

Amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, concerns have arisen among lawmakers that ByteDance might share data on US users with the Chinese government. While TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has assured Congress that the company does not provide such data to Beijing, fears persist regarding the potential for surveillance or disinformation campaigns.

Despite TikTok's reassurances and lobbying efforts, some legislators are taking the national security implications seriously. Lawmakers have received briefings from intelligence officials regarding the risks posed by TikTok's ownership structure, prompting further consideration of the bill's merits.

As the legislative process unfolds, TikTok has leveraged its platform to rally users against the bill, warning of a "total ban" that could jeopardize millions of livelihoods. This advocacy has resulted in a surge of calls to House members, although some lawmakers view it as misguided and fueled by misinformation.

Critics of the bill, including TikTok itself and civil liberties organizations like the ACLU, argue that it infringes upon free speech rights enshrined in the US Constitution. The bill's opponents assert that it would set a dangerous precedent of government intervention in online speech and content moderation practices.

This legislative showdown over TikTok follows previous attempts by the Trump administration to force ByteDance to sell the platform. Similar efforts have stalled in the past due to legal challenges and constitutional concerns. Despite bipartisan support for legislation addressing national security risks posed by certain technology companies, questions remain about the constitutionality and efficacy of targeting specific firms.

Meanwhile, TikTok's dispute with Universal Music Group (UMG) over licensing agreements continues, leading to the removal of significant portions of UMG's music catalog from the platform. The absence of UMG's repertoire has implications for TikTok's music ecosystem, affecting a substantial portion of popular music content on the platform.

As the debate over TikTok's future unfolds in Congress and in its ongoing disputes with industry stakeholders, the platform's fate remains uncertain, with far-reaching implications for both its users and the broader digital landscape.