House Committee Pushes Bill to Ban TikTok on U.S. Devices

The Lede: On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed a bill that could ban TikTok for all U.S.-based electronic devices and remove it from app stores as lawmakers in Washington push for more measures to curb sensitive security and economic links to Beijing. 

What We Know:

  • The committee approved the bipartisan bill 50-0 following a classified briefing regarding the risks posed by the app to U.S. citizens, especially concerning personal data and other sensitive information, due to the company’s ownership by the Chinese parent entity ByteDance. The lawmakers say that Chinese laws requiring domestic companies to send information to the government could be a threat to U.S. data and information security.
  • Leading up to the vote, TikTok provided relevant phone numbers to congressional offices based on user zip codes, urging its users to contact their congressional representatives through the app. 
  • Republican House majority leader Steve Scalise plans to bring the bill to the House floor for a full vote next week. If instituted, ByteDance would have 165 days to divest from TikTok before it would become illegal for app stores to make it available for download. 
  • The legislation was backed by the White House and written with the help of officials at the National Security Council. Former President Donald Trump, who pushed hard policies on both China and TikTok opposed the legislation. 

The Background: The bill’s lead author Representative Mike Gallagher heads the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. He and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the ranking Democrat in the committee introduced the bill earlier in the week. TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew testified to lawmakers last year and argued that the app poses no threat to Americans. Some state and federal entities have already banned TikTok from being used on government-related devices, but a blanket ban has not yet been enacted. 

Likely Outcomes:

  • The Senate proposed legislation to restrict TikTok last year, but the effort failed amid concerns of giving the executive branch too much power. Other opponents view this as a free speech issue that would violate Americans’ rights as well as the rights of digital service companies. These concerns would be the main stumbling blocks of this legislation. However, Washington’s track record of expanding the power of the executive branch and increasingly muddy relationship with civil liberties, especially in the digital space, could mean that these would be minor stumbling blocks in the face of solid political will. 
  • The U.S. is acting against TikTok under the presumption that the Chinese government can access the data related to the users of the app. While it could be prioritizing the flow of information to Beijing, Washington’s main driver is likely the larger geopolitical rivalry. Certainly, the personal entertainment and business aspects enjoyed by the app's users and content creators are not significant factors. As TikTok operates separately from its counterpart platforms in China, a ban on the app would not significantly sever the social media and digital media landscapes between the two countries. ByteDance will likely seek a strategy to restructure its operations and finances to try to continue to offer TikTok on app stores in the U.S. while trying to maintain some kind of stake in it before actually divesting. 


“This is not a ban. Think of this as a surgery designed to remove the tumor and thereby save the patient in the process.” - Mike Gallagher, Republican representative from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party

“The basic problem is that, no matter how you construct the bill or executive order text, the business that is targeted is one whose core function is related to speech, and so there is not an easy get out of jail free card when it comes to the speech issues.” - Emily Kilcrease, technology and trade expert at the Center for a New American Security

“They can try to dress it up however they want, but this is a bill to ban Tiktok and give unprecedented power to take apps off your phone.” - Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas

“Today, we will take the first step in creating long-overdue laws to protect Americans from the threat posed by apps controlled by our adversaries, and to send a very strong message that the US will always stand up for our values and freedom.” - Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican Representative and chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee 

Good Reads:

US lawmakers tune out TikTok lobbying to advance bill to ban app (FT)

Mike Gallagher: ByteDance divestment bill can clear legal hurdles (Politico)

House panel unanimously approves bill that could ban TikTok (CNN)

Trump Condemns Potential TikTok Ban—Despite Pushing For Ban During His Presidency (Forbes)