TikTok Is In The Hot Seat Once Again In Washington

In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is seen on a phone on March 13, 2024 in New York City. Congress is set to vote and pass a bill that could ban the popular app TikTok nationwide and be sent to the Senate for a vote. (Michael M Santiago/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

By Brian Fung, CNN

(CNN) — TikTok is again facing an imminent threat from Congress.

On Wednesday, House Republicans added a hot-button bill that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban to a wide-ranging foreign aid package intended to help Israel and Ukraine.

House Speaker Mike Johnson aims to hold a vote on the aid package as early as Saturday. If approved, it could fast-track what has become the most serious risk to TikTok’s US business since former President Donald Trump first proposed a ban of the popular app in 2020.

An earlier version of the TikTok bill sailed through the House in March, but it has become bogged down in the Senate. By including it in the aid package, House Republicans hope to force the Senate to a quick vote on a measure supporters say is necessary to protect Americans’ personal data from the Chinese government.

Opponents, including TikTok and a range of civil society groups, have argued the bill risks violating TikTok users’ First Amendment rights.

In pressuring Senate colleagues to approve the TikTok bill alongside military equipment for Ukraine, House Republicans are angling to avoid the lengthy regular process that could delay a Senate vote on the app, which has 175 million US users. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the House TikTok bill if it reaches his desk.

The latest version of the TikTok bill contains some updates. For example, it sets out a nine-month timeframe for the app’s Chinese parent, ByteDance, to sell the social media company. If it misses the deadline, TikTok would be banned from US app stores.

That proposed time limit is longer than the roughly six months proposed in previous legislation. The new bill would also give the president the option to extend the deadline by another 90 days if he determines there’s been progress toward a sale.

The changes appear aimed at addressing concerns by some senators that the original six-month deadline was too short. Whether the revisions are enough to gain Senate approval, however, remains unclear, as some leading senators have signaled desires for a slower approach to a TikTok bill.

One key senator who was doubtful of the initial House TikTok bill appeared satisfied.

“I’m very happy that Speaker Johnson and House leaders incorporated my recommendation to extend the ByteDance divestment period from six months to a year,” said Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, in a statement. “As I’ve said, extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done. I support this updated legislation.”

For years, US policymakers have expressed fears that TikTok’s links to China through its parent company could allow the Chinese government unauthorized access to TikTok’s US user data. That information could potentially help the Chinese government identify intelligence targets or facilitate disinformation campaigns, they have said. Some other countries such as India have already banned TikTok.

TikTok has pushed back strongly against those claims, saying there is no evidence the Chinese government has accessed US user data to date and that the company has taken steps to insulate Americans’ personal information. That includes Project Texas, an initiative that involved moving TikTok’s US user data onto servers controlled and overseen by Oracle, the US technology giant.

Some policy experts say a more comprehensive way to deal with TikTok’s potential national security risks would be for Congress to pass a national privacy law that regulates how all businesses and organizations can handle Americans’ personal information.

This month, Cantwell and her Republican counterpart in the House, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, unveiled a proposal that could do just that, breaking a yearslong deadlock over key issues including the scope and reach of a unified, national data privacy standard.

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