Republicans on a powerful House committee voted to advance a bill on Wednesday that would allow President Joe Biden to ban TikTok from the United States, despite objections from Democrats and civil liberty groups.
In a 24-16 vote, the House Foreign Affairs Committee greenlit Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-TX) Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act, or DATA Act, sending it to the House floor. The bill directs Biden to sanction, or possibly ban, TikTok nationwide if the administration finds that the company shared user data with individuals associated with the Chinese government. If that data was used to surveil, hack, or censor users, Biden could impose additional sanctions against TikTok and its parent-company Bytedance.
“TikTok is a modern day Trojan horse of the CCP used to surveil and exploit Americans’ personal information,” McCaul said in a markup of the bill on Tuesday.
The vote comes weeks before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to appear before the Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23rd to answer questions related to the app’s relationship with the Chinese government.
While there are bipartisan concerns over TikTok’s potential risks to national security, Democrats fear that McCaul’s solution, which was introduced last Friday, is even riskier. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), called the bill “dangerously overboard” and argued its passage could affect businesses located in ally countries in Europe and Taiwan.
Also, the American Civil Liberties Union echoed these concerns in a letter to McCaul on Monday, saying that the bill poses a threat to the First Amendment.
“Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. Whether we’re discussing the news of the day, live streaming protests, or even watching cat videos, we have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world,” Jenna Leventoff, ACLU senior policy counsel, said in a statement.
Responding to the committee’s vote, TikTok issued a statement saying that banning the app would effectively place “a ban on the export of American culture and values” to the company’s international audience.
“We’re disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward; despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok,” the company said.
Shortly after Wednesday’s vote, McCaul said in an interview that he expects the bill to be taken up for a floor vote later this month. But before the bill makes its way to Biden, the Democrat-controlled Senate will also need to approve it.