TikTok app on smartphone showing TikTok ban and national security

US TikTok Ban Moves Closer to Reality With Unanimous House Committee Approval

A TikTok ban bill that was just introduced in early March passed directly through the House Energy and Commerce Committee with little trouble, receiving a unanimous and bipartisan reception from committee members.

While the bill (called the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act“) will still need to pass a floor vote in the House and have a companion put forward in the Senate, it currently enjoys the support of both the Biden administration and Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. The bill’s prospects have clearly spooked TikTok, which urged users to call their Congressional representatives and voice opposition.

Likelihood of TikTok ban increases with House response

Should the bill make it all the way through the legislative process in its present form, the TikTok ban would give ByteDance 165 days to find a buyer for the app. If it cannot or will not sell TikTok within that period, the app would then be banned from US app stores.

The terms of the bill reflect prior demands by both the Trump and Biden administrations that TikTok cut all ties with Chinese ownership. This was the Trump administration’s original position, which eventually softened to requiring the app to move user data to the US and have a domestic company (Oracle) oversee its storage and use. The Biden administration maintained this position but began rumblings about forcing a sale once again in 2023 after TikTok suffered a series of security breaches and internal failures to keep user data from flowing to engineers in China.

Roughly a year ago, TikTok CEO Shou Chew attempted to address the company’s mishaps by testifying before Congress and assuring lawmakers that it did not pose risks to American personal data or national security. Given that effort seems to have done little good, the company is now urging its users to contact their members of Congress and oppose the bill. The prospect of a TikTok ban has long riled many Americans, where the app has an estimated 150 million monthly users, or nearly half of the total national population. Pop-up ads used by TikTok to protest the bill led to a wave of angry calls from users in recent days.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who currently heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that the TikTok ban is not meant to be a precedent that grants free license for future bans of apps. The bill does mention the possibility of other bans on a national security basis, but establishes that the threat must be well-documented and the public must first be notified. The app in question would also have to be controlled by or under the possible influence of a foreign adversary.

Proposed TikTok ban centered on fears of CCP involvement

Though there has been talk of a possible TikTok ban for nearly four years now, it has proven extremely difficult to get over the hump. Much of that is down to its widespread popularity in the country, with some recent studies estimating the average user spends 1.5 hours on the app and opens it anywhere from 8 to 19 times each day. It has also developed surprisingly broad demographic appeal after starting out as the “young people’s app,” though Gen Z still spends more time on it than average and more than any other age group.

The federal government says that it is not seeking a TikTok ban to be a buzzkill, but out of well-placed national security concerns. Regardless of ByteDance’s intentions regarding user privacy, any data that finds its way onto Chinese servers has to be assumed to have also been stored away by the Chinese government under the terms of its own national security policies. That has led to a federal ban of the app from government devices, and many state governments have issued similar restrictions.

More expansive bans have already met with legal stoppages, however. A bill introduced in the Senate last year stalled out over concerns about First Amendment violations and the power that it would hand to the executive branch. The state of Montana tried its own statewide TikTok ban in 2023, but a federal judge stepped in to temporarily block the action along similar lines.

ByteDance has also scored legal victories in response to restrictions on its blockbuster app. The first attempt at a TikTok ban by the Trump administration in 2020 ended with a preliminary injunction when ByteDance successfully sued in court; the issue was later rendered moot when Biden was elected and his administration rescinded the Trump order.

ByteDance is also getting some support from the American Civil Liberties Union, which issued a press release condemning the recent House vote. The ACLU’s focus is on the potential First Amendment speech restrictions that could arise if the app was removed from public access.