U.S. Senate passes bill to bar federal employees from using TikTok on government-owned devices

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate late on Wednesday passed by voice vote a bill banning federal employees from using the Chinese-owned short video sharing app TikTok on government-owned devices.

The bill must still be approved by the US House of Representatives before going to President Joe Biden for approval. The House of Representatives will need to pass the Senate bill before the end of the current congressional session, which is expected next week.

The vote is the latest move by US lawmakers to clamp down on Chinese companies amid national security concerns that Beijing could use them to spy on Americans.

The Senate action comes after North Dakota and Iowa this week joined a growing number of US states in banning TikTok, owned by ByteDance, from state-owned devices, amid concerns that data could be transferred to the Chinese government.

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During the last Congress, the Senate in August 2020 unanimously approved legislation to ban TikTok from government devices. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, has been reintroduced into the 2021 legislation.

Many federal agencies including the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and State already ban TikTok from government-owned devices. “TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and has no place on government devices,” Hawley previously said.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued directives prohibiting executive branch agencies from downloading the app onto any government-issued equipment. About a dozen US states have taken similar actions, including Alabama and Utah this week.

TikTok said the concerns were largely fueled by misinformation and were happy to meet with policymakers to discuss the company’s practices.

“We are disappointed that so many countries are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies based on an outlandish lie about TikTok that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States,” the company said Wednesday.

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Other states taking similar actions include Texas, Maryland and South Dakota.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday unveiled bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok outright in the United States, increasing pressure on ByteDance over U.S. concerns that the app could be used to spy on Americans and censor content. Rubio is also a sponsor of the administration’s bill to ban TikTok Hawley’s

The legislation would block all transactions from or influenced by any social media company in China and Russia, Rubio’s office said.

At a hearing last month, FBI Director Chris Ray said that TikTok’s activity in the US raises national security concerns.

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In 2020, then-President Donald Trump tried to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other deals that would have effectively blocked use of the apps in the United States, but lost a series of court battles over the measure.

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, a powerful national security body, ordered ByteDance in 2020 to sell TikTok over concerns that US user data could be passed to the Chinese government, although ByteDance has not done so.

CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks for months to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of TikTok’s more than 100 million users, but no deal appears likely to be reached before the end of the year.

Reporting by David Shepherdson; Edited by Leslie Adler, Josie Cao and Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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