House votes on bill to force TikTok divestiture or ban

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on Wednesday on legislation that would compel ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, to sell off its U.S. operations of the widely used short-video app within six months or face a prohibition.

Publication: 13.03.2024 - 14:12
House votes on bill to force TikTok divestiture or ban
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The bill, which aims to address U.S. national security concerns, is scheduled for a vote at 10 a.m. ET and requires a two-thirds majority for passage under fast-track procedures. Both supporters and critics anticipate its approval.

This legislative action emerges after a brief period of discussion and a single public hearing, breaking a year-long hiatus in Congressional action on the matter. ByteDance's hope that legislation would not materialize this year was briefly buoyed last month when President Joe Biden's reelection campaign launched a TikTok account.

The initiative reflects ongoing efforts in Washington to mitigate national security risks associated with Chinese technology, ranging from connected vehicles and advanced AI chips to port infrastructure.

Following unanimous support from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill now faces a vote in the full House. However, its future in the Senate remains uncertain, with some senators advocating for a broader regulatory framework for foreign-owned applications that pose security risks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has yet to disclose his strategy.

Amid these developments, TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, is scheduled to meet with senators in a visit planned before the vote's announcement, signaling the high stakes for the company.

TikTok criticized the bill, framing it as an effective ban on the app in the U.S. and an infringement on Americans' right to free expression. The White House, however, clarified that the objective is to terminate Chinese ownership of TikTok rather than to ban the app outright. The administration questions whether TikTok's data practices are secure under its current ownership.

The feasibility of a divestiture within the stipulated timeframe and China's potential response remain uncertain. Failure to divest would lead to TikTok's removal from app stores and prohibit web hosting services for ByteDance-controlled apps.

This bill revives the debate initiated by former President Donald Trump, who attempted to ban TikTok and WeChat in 2020, a move that faced legal and judicial obstacles. The current legislation could also prompt legal challenges, evidenced by a recent court ruling against a Montana state ban on TikTok.

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