TikTok’s owner ByteDance looks likely to face a one year period in which it must divest its popular short video app, or face a nationwide ban across the United States.

The Guardian reported that the US Senate on Tuesday voted to pass the bill that will either ban TikTok or force its sale. The vote in the US Senate was a landslide, with 79 senators voting in favour and 18 against.

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 bill

That prompted TikTok this week to warn that the bill would “trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans” and harm US businesses and the economy.

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.

The bill however in the past month was amended and now gives Beijing-based ByteDance a year to sell TikTok to a US-based company, or the app will face a total ban from American app stores.

This new bill is now making its way to the desk of US President Joe Biden, who has previously said he would sign the legislation.

It should be remembered that TikTok is 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.

TikTok response

TikTok US has vowed to fight the legislation, rather than accept the new law, after the Guardian noted a memo from TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman.

If the new federal law goes into effect without being blocked in US courts, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store will be required to stop offering TikTok for download or face financial penalties.

“At the stage that the bill is signed, we will move to the courts for a legal challenge,” Beckerman was quoted by the Guardian as writing in a memo.

Beckerman claimed that the bill violated the first amendment of the US constitution, which protects freedom of speech.

“We’ll continue to fight, as this legislation is a clear violation of the first amendment rights of the 170 million Americans on TikTok,” he wrote.

National security

Former US president Donald Trump in 2020 had tried to ban TikTok or to force its sale to a US entity, but the efforts were blocked by the courts.

More recently, Trump seems to have changed his mind and has railed against the possibility of a ban, reportedly saying Biden would be “responsible” for such a measure.

For years now TikTok has been at the centre of national security concerns in the US and other countries, that it may share sensitive user data with the Communist authorities in Beijing.

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

TikTok’s Singaporean chief executive Chew Shou Zi has repeatedly denied it would share user data with Chinese authorities.

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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