US Senate Votes to Ban TikTok App on Government Devices

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously voted to approve a bill banning federal employees from using video-sharing app TikTok on government-issued devices, amid threats from the White House to ban the company.

The app has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration over national security concerns because China’s ByteDance owns the technology. The company currently faces a deadline of Sept. 15 either to sell its U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp or another U.S. firm or face an outright ban.

Sources previously told Reuters that ByteDance executives value all of TikTok at more than $50 billion.

Under a Chinese law introduced in 2017, companies have an obligation to support and cooperate with the country’s national intelligence work.

“I’m encouraged by the bipartisan support we have seen in this body to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable and that includes … holding accountable those corporations who would just do China’s bidding,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

“And, if I have anything to say about it, we won’t be stopping here,” Hawley added.

Last month, the House of Representatives voted to bar federal employees from downloading the app on government-issued devices as part of a proposal offered by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).

A finalized version of the bill, combining the House and Senate versions, would need President Donald Trump’s approval to become law.

When asked if the president favored the legislation, a White House official said “We support Congress’ intent to protect government-issued devices against the privacy and security risks inherent in certain third-party applications.”

A TikTok spokeswoman said its growing U.S. team has no higher priority than promoting a safe app experience that protects users’ privacy.

On Wednesday, TikTok said it was working with experts from the Department of Homeland Security to “protect against foreign influence” and fact-check potential misinformation about the election.

The company has increasingly emerged as a platform for political discourse and activism. Users recently said they helped inflate attendance expectations at President Donald Trump’s June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Last year, the company said about 60 percent of its 26.5 million monthly active U.S. users are aged 16 to 24.

By Nandita Bose