US bans TikTok owner ByteDance, will prohibit app in US unless it is sold

A TikTok app icon on a phone screen.

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The Senate last night approved a bill that orders TikTok owner ByteDance to sell the company within 270 days or lose access to the US market. The House had already passed the bill, and President Biden signed it into law today.

The “Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” was approved as part of a larger appropriations bill that provides aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. It passed in a 79-18 vote. Biden last night issued a statement saying he will sign the appropriations bill into law “as soon as it reaches my desk.” He signed the bill into law today, the White House announced.

The bill classifies TikTok as a “foreign adversary controlled application” and gives the Chinese company ByteDance 270 days to sell it to another entity. Biden can extend the deadline by up to 90 days if a sale is in progress.

TikTok would maintain access to the US market if the president determines that the divestiture “would result in the relevant foreign adversary controlled application no longer being controlled by a foreign adversary.” The same divestiture-or-sale requirement would apply to other applications subsequently designated as being controlled by foreign adversaries.

If ByteDance doesn’t sell TikTok, app stores in the US would have to drop the app, and Internet hosting services would be prohibited from providing services that enable distribution of TikTok in the US. Companies that violate the prohibition would have to pay civil penalties.

ByteDance will fight law in court

“Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok, or any other individual company,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said, according to the Associated Press. Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations, harming vulnerable Americans, our servicemen and women, and our US government personnel.

Reuters quoted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as saying the bill is “really just a TikTok ban” and that “censorship is not who we are as a people. We should not downplay or deny this trade-off.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed concern that the bill “provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

Despite those statements, Markey and Wyden both voted in favor of the appropriations bill that includes the TikTok-inspired law.

ByteDance has said it will file a lawsuit in an attempt to block the law. “This legislation is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of TikTok’s 170 million American users,” Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s public policy head in the US, reportedly told staff in a memo after the House vote on Saturday. “We’ll continue to fight… This is the beginning, not the end of this long process.”

In a statement today, TikTok said it “will ultimately prevail” in court and that “we have invested billions of dollars to keep US data safe and our platform free from outside influence and manipulation.”

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