Senate committee passes bill banning TikTok from government phones

Companion bill passed in House on Tuesday as part of $740B National Defense Authorization Act

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would ban federal employees from using the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on government phones. It will now go to the Senate floor.

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"TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who introduced the bill in March, said in a statement. “As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices."

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A companion bill passed in the House on Tuesday as part of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News earlier this month that the Trump administration is “looking at” an outright ban of TikTok and other Chinese social media apps.

TikTok has consistently denied that the app is a threat to users’ privacy and says it has never handed over data to the Chinese government.

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"Millions of American families use TikTok for entertainment and creative expression, which we recognize is not what federal government devices are for,” a TikTok spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. “Our American CEO, our Chief Information Security Officer who brings years of military and law enforcement experience, and our entire and growing US team –– which has tripled since the start of the year –– have no higher priority than promoting a safe app experience that protects our users' privacy.”

The short-form video app has exploded in popularity since its launch in 2017, surpassing two billion downloads recently, according to an April report by the app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.

But U.S. officials are worried that widespread use of the app is a security threat and that Americans’ data could be accessed by the Chinese government.

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A national security law passed by China in 2017 states that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and maintain the secrecy of all knowledge of state intelligence work.”

In response to the concerns, TikTok has made some efforts to distance itself from the Chinese government. The Information reported Tuesday that some U.S. investors of ByteDance, the Beijing-based tech company that owns TikTok, are in talks to buy a majority stake in the company.

Axios also reported Tuesday that TikTok plans to add 10,000 jobs in the United States over the next three years, a move that could ingratiate the company with U.S. lawmakers.

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