US Senate passes bill mandating TikTok sale or US ban

The bill is part of a foreign aid package expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden. Lawmakers and intelligence officials are concerned about the data and security risks of TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company.

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The Senate has passed a foreign aid package that includes a bill mandating China-based company ByteDance to sell TikTok within a year or face a US ban on the platform. Having cleared both chambers of Congress, the legislation is now headed to President Joe Biden, who has committed to signing it into law. ByteDance will have an initial nine months to finalise a sale, with a possible three-month extension based on progress, though legal challenges could delay enforcement.

The bill’s successful passage through the Senate was achieved through strategic manoeuvring in the House, where it was included in a high-priority foreign aid package. This move compelled the Senate to address the TikTok issue earlier than anticipated. By extending the divestment timeline, more support was garnered in the Senate, resulting in a vote of 79-18 in favour of the bill.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials have voiced concerns over TikTok’s ownership by a China-based company. They cite potential data security risks due to China’s national security law and fear that the Chinese government’s influence could impact US user experiences.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell stressed that the legislation aims to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage and harming vulnerable Americans, not to punish specific companies.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner highlighted worries about Chinese companies owing allegiance to the Chinese government and potential covert manipulation of social media platforms. He dismissed TikTok’s proposed data governance solution, Project Texas, as inadequate. Despite concerns among TikTok users, Warner assured that the legislation is not about silencing voices but addressing critical national security issues.

President Biden has expressed intent to promptly sign the bill into law to facilitate aid to Ukraine, while TikTok has signalled readiness to challenge the law in court if passed.