By Katabella Roberts
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to pass legislation that would ban the use of the video-sharing app TikTok on government phones and devices amid growing concerns that the app poses a cybersecurity risk and is a threat to national security.
The “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” was first introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in April 2021 and will essentially follow up on steps already taken by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and The Transportation Security Administration to ban the video application from being used on federal government devices.
Specifically, the bill (pdf) requires the Office of Management and Budget to develop standards for executive agencies that require TikTok and any successor application by its owner to be pulled from any device issued by the U.S. or a government corporation.
The bill does include exceptions for law enforcement activities, national security interests, and security researchers in some circumstances.
Although it passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, Hawley’s bill will still need to be passed by the House and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
‘TikTok Is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party’
A similar bill was first introduced in March 2020 and unanimously passed the Senate in August 2020 but stalled in the House. It was subsequently reintroduced in April 2021 by Senators Hawley, Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cotton (R-Ark.), and it unanimously passed in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Senator Hawlyer, a Republican, confirmed on Twitter that lawmakers had voted unanimously to pass the latest bill.
“TikTok is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party. It’s a major security risk to the United States, and until it is forced to sever ties with China completely, it has no place on government devices,” Hawley said in a statement. “States across the U.S. are banning TikTok on government devices. It’s time for Joe Biden and the Democrats to help do the same.”
TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
U.S. officials have repeatedly raised concerns that the app poses a national security risk, with data on users in the U.S. potentially falling into the hands of the CCP.
Despite growing concerns, the popularity of the app, especially among teens, has soared, with Pew Research Center data showing that nearly 70 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. regularly use the video-sharing platform.
Meanwhile, ByteDance has repeatedly denied that TikTok data is handed to Beijing and said it stores U.S. user data on servers outside of China.
Following Wednesday’s vote among Senate lawmakers to unanimously pass Hawley’s bill, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told Bloomberg in a statement: “Once again, Senator Hawley has moved forward with legislation to ban TikTok on government devices, a proposal which does nothing to advance US national security interests.”
“We hope that rather than continuing down that road, he will urge the administration to move forward on an agreement that would actually address his concerns,” Oberwetter added.
A string of states across the U.S. have already banned TikTok from being used on government devices, including Maryland, South Dakota, and South Carolina, citing potential cyber-espionage and surveillance of government entities, as well as the inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information.
On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.) introduced legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the United States completely.
“The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok. This isn’t about creative videos — this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day. We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections,” the GOP lawmaker said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.”