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US: Biden says he would sign proposed bill on TikTok ban as Trump raises concerns

National security officials have constantly warned of the potential risks of TikTok in the US, saying it could be used to spy on Americans or spread misinformation. Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat in 2020 under his presidency, but was blocked by the courts.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: March 09, 2024 12:37 IST
Biden, TikTok ban, Donald Trump
Image Source : REUTERS US President Joe Biden

Washington: US President Joe Biden on Friday said he would sign legislation that would give China's ByteDance company a time period of six months to divest the popular TikTok short video app as his Republican rival Donald Trump raised concerns about a ban on the service that is used by a massive 170 million Americans. Lawmakers are pushing to block the app's Chinese owners over purported national security risks.

The US House of Representatives plans to vote on Tuesday or Wednesday next week on a bill to crack down on TikTok after a committee on Thursday approved the measure. The House requires two-thirds of members to vote "yes" to win approval on the legislation. "If they pass it, I'll sign it," Biden told reporters. 

The bill would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok. If it failed to do so, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet's Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide Web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications. In 2020, Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat but was blocked by the courts.

Why is Trump objecting to the TikTok ban?

National security officials and lawmakers have warned of the potential risks the app poses for years, saying it could be used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans or spread misinformation or propaganda. 

Trump, who is seeking a return to the White House in the November election, expressed objections to banning TikTok, saying on social media: "If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook ... will double their business," and added he does not want Facebook "doing better". He had criticised Meta for revoking his access to Facebook and Instagram after his contentious remarks during the January 6, 2021 riot.

The Justice Department told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that a divestiture bill, rather than a bill banning TikTok, would put the government in a stronger legal position, according to a document seen by Reuters. Meanwhile, Mike Pence, who served as vice president under Trump, endorsed the proposed House legislation on TikTok.

"China is poisoning the minds of American children. Enough is enough," he wrote on X, adding that TikTok allows Chinese Communist Party to manipulate the minds of young Americans at will and compromises the privacy of millions of Americans. "Congress should pass legislation forcing the sale of TikTok as soon as possible, and President Biden must immediately sign it into law," he added.

Trump's previous attempt to ban TikTok

Interestingly, while Trump is now raising objections to banning TikTok, he led an effort to ban TikTok and WeChat under his presidency. In an August 2020 executive order, Biden said TikTok data collection "threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage." However, the courts blocked Trump's effort.

"The Trump-Pence Administration paved the path for this important legislation through an Executive Order intended to force the CCP to sell TikTok in 2020. Rather than put our country’s national security first, the Biden-Harris Administration demonstrated extreme short-sightedness and partisanship, revoking the Executive Order in 2021," Pence said on X.

Responding to Trump's recent objections, Republican Senator Rand Paul, who previously blocked attempts to fast-track a TikTok ban, said the former president helped address concerns about US users of TikTok through a $1.5 billion company project. "So why is the House GOP siding with Biden and still trying to ban TikTok? If Congress bans TikTok, they will be acting just like the Chinese communists who have also banned TikTok ... Why not just defend the first amendment," he said.

TikTok's response

TikTok, which says it has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government, argues the House bill amounts to a ban. It is unclear if China would approve any sale or if TikTok it could be divested in six months. The app is popular and getting legislation approved by both the House and Senate in an election year may be difficult, as several presidential aspirants promoted their campaign through the service.

"This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States," the company said after the House Energy and Commerce Committee vote. "The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression."

In a one-page memo to members of Congress that was obtained by CBS News, the Justice Department laid out the dangers it says TikTok poses, including the "tremendous amounts of sensitive data" it collects, and the potential for the Chinese government to carry out an influence campaign. 

(with inputs from Reuters)

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