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 that would prevent federal employees from using the Chinese-owned short video sharing app TikTok on government-owned devices.

The bill still needs to be approved by the US House of Representatives before it goes to President Joe Biden for approval. The House of Representatives must 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 crack down on Chinese companies over national security fears 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 entities over concerns that data could be passed on to the Chinese government.

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

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

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

TikTok has said the concerns are largely fueled by misinformation and is happy to meet with politicians to discuss the company’s practices.

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“We are disappointed that so many states are jumping on the policy bandwagon to enact policies based on baseless lies about TikTok that will do nothing to advance US national security,” the company said Wednesday.

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

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

The legislation would block all transactions by any social media company in or under the influence of China and Russia, Rubio’s office said.

At a hearing last month, FBI Director Chris Wray said TikTok’s US operations raise national security concerns.

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

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The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, a powerful national security agency, ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok in 2020 over fears that US user data could be released 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 it doesn’t look like any deal will be reached before the end of the year.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler, Josie Kao and Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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