US Senate passes bill to force sale of TikTok, sending it to Biden

TikTok has said legislation ‘would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans’.

US lawmakers have claimed that TikTok is national security threat [Damian Dovarganes/AP]

The United States Senate has approved legislation that would ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok unless it divests from its Chinese parent company.

The vote on Tuesday clears the way for the bill to be signed into law by President Joe Biden, who has backed the measures, although the legislation is expected to be challenged in the courts.

The proposal, which would give Chinese company ByteDance nine months to sell the platform, was included in a larger $95bn package that provides foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel.

The Senate voted 79-18 to approve the package, after Republicans in the House of Representatives last week attached the TikTok bill to the foreign aid proposals to help expedite its passage through Congress.

The House passed the package on Saturday in a 360-58 bipartisan vote.

Both Republicans and Democrats have claimed that TikTok threatens national security, arguing the platform could be used by Beijing to spy on Americans and manipulate public debate.

TikTok has insisted it has not shared American users’ data with the Chinese government and that it never would.

The vote comes just days after the US Congress approved the reauthorisation of a controversial programme that allows the surveillance of US citizens’ communications without a judicial warrant.

In a statement on Sunday, TikTok said the bill to force its sales “would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans”.

TikTok is expected to seek a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the law pending a challenge to its constitutionality.

Last year, a judge in the US state of Montana blocked a similar ban after finding it “oversteps state power” and “likely violates the First Amendment”.

Civil liberties organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, have also opposed the proposals on free speech grounds.

A similar bill to force the sale of TikTok passed the House last month but got held up in the Senate.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban TikTok, but the move was blocked in court  on the grounds that it violated free speech and due process rights.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies