US President Joe Biden lost little time after the US Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that gives ByteDance up to a year to divest TikTok, or face a nationwide ban across the United States.

CNN reported that the US President followed through on his previous commitment to back the bill, and on Wednesday signed the bill into law.

The bill had already passed in the House on Saturday by a margin of 360 to 58, as part of a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

TikTok owner ByteDance. Image credit: ByteDance

Signed into law

Prior to this, the US House of Representatives had in March overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have given ByteDance approximately six months to divest itself of its US assets or face a nationwide ban.

That bill however faced slow progress in the Senate, in the past month it was amended and now gives Beijing-based ByteDance 270 days (or roughly nine months) to sell TikTok to a US-based company, or the app will face a total ban from American app stores, as well as being prohibited from “internet hosting services” that support the app.

Therefore President Biden’s decision to quickly sign the bill into law on Wednesday gives ByteDance a divest deadline for a sale of 19 January 2025.

Image credit: US government

Under the legislation, however, President Biden could extend the deadline another 90 days if he determines ByteDance has made progress toward a sale. That would give TikTok potentially up to a year before facing a ban.

But the issue for ByteDance is that it is subject to Chinese law, and the Chinese government has previously stated it opposes a sale.

However the US legislation does pose the most serious risk to TikTok since US officials began raising concerns about the app in 2020.

China-based firms are legally obliged under the Chinese ‘2017 Intelligence Security law’ to hand over data to Beijing if requested.

TikTok response

TikTok and ByteDance are of course not happy at this development.

In a statement, TikTok pledged to challenge ‘unconstitutional’ US ban in the courts.

“This unconstitutional law is a TikTok ban, and we will challenge it in court,” said TikTok. “We believe the facts and the law are clearly on our side, and we will ultimately prevail. The fact is, we have invested billions of dollars to keep US data safe and our platform free from outside influence and manipulation.”

“This ban would devastate seven million businesses and silence 170 million Americans,” it added. “As we continue to challenge this unconstitutional ban, we will continue investing and innovating to ensure TikTok remains a space where Americans of all walks of life can safely come to share their experiences, find joy, and be inspired.”

In a video posted alongside the statement, TikTok’s Singaporean CEO Shou Chew sought to reassure worried American users and content creators, after saying, “Rest assured: we aren’t going anywhere.”

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew. Image credit: TikTok

“We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts,” he added. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail.”

And it should be noted that TikTok does have some reason to be optimistic.

TikTok is of course already banned on government devices in 34 out of 50 US states, as well as the entire federal government, over concerns data collected by the app could be accessed by Chinese authorities.

But in November 2023 TikTok achieved a victory after a US judge blocked Montana’s first-of-its kind state ban on TikTok, ruling the Montana ban violated the free speech rights of users.

Montana however is currently appealing that ruling.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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