US Senate committee to vote on bill banning TikTok

The bill would ban federal employees from using the social media app TikTok on government-issued devices.

TikTok ByteDance
A bill proposed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley would ban federal employees from using social media app TikTok on government-issued devices [Lam Yik/Bloomberg]

A United States Senate committee is likely to vote next week on a bill from Republican Senator Josh Hawley that would ban federal employees from using the social media app TikTok on government-issued devices.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will take up the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” at its hearing on July 22.

TikTok’s Chinese ownership and wide popularity among American teens have brought scrutiny from US regulators and legislators.

TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, is known for its ability to create short videos. The company last year said about 60 percent of its 26.5 million monthly active users in the US are aged 16 to 24.

A man walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance’s app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China [Reuters] 

One of the company’s harshest critics, Hawley has repeatedly raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data and said he was worried the company shares data with the Chinese government.

“For federal employees, it really is a no-brainer. It’s a major security risk … Do we really want Beijing having geolocation data of all federal employees? Do we really want them having their keystrokes?” Hawley told reporters in March when he announced the introduction of the bill.

Officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump said the White House currently is studying the national security risks of such applications, with action to address the issue expected in the coming weeks.

“There are a number of … administration officials who are looking at the national security risk as it relates to TikTok, WeChat and other apps that have the potential for national security exposure, specifically as it relates to the gathering of information on American citizens by a foreign adversary,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters en route to Washington from Georgia.

“I don’t know that there’s any self-imposed deadline in terms of action, but I would say that we’re looking at weeks, not months,” he added.

Several US agencies that deal with national security and intelligence issues have banned employees from using the app, which allows users to create short videos.

Recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is looking at banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, suggesting it shared information with the Chinese government. He said Americans should be cautious when using the app.

TikTok in the past has told Reuters news agency it has never provided user data to China. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under a law introduced in 2017 under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese companies have an obligation to support and cooperate in China’s national intelligence work.

Source: Reuters