The Senate passed legislation Wednesday evening to ban TikTok from US government devices, in a move designed to limit perceived information-security risks stemming from the social media app.
The vote by unanimous consent approved the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, a bill authored by Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
The move marks lawmakers’ latest step against the short-form video app that has become popular with over a billion users worldwide. US officials fear that TikTok’s user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government due to that country’s influence over TikTok’s parent, ByteDance.
A companion bill was introduced in the House last year by Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck. It has yet to be approved by members of the House Oversight Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday it isn’t yet clear whether the chamber will take up the TikTok bill in light of its Senate passage, saying lawmakers were consulting with White House officials on its language.
“Once again, Sen. Hawley has moved forward with legislation to ban TikTok on government devices, a proposal which does nothing to advance U.S. national security interests,” a spokesperson for TikTok said in a statement. “We hope that rather than continuing down that road, he will urge the Administration to move forward on an agreement that would actually address his concerns.”
The latest legislative action comes as TikTok and the US government have been negotiating a deal that may allow the app to keep serving US users. There have been years of closed-door talks between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, as well as recent reports of delays in the negotiations.
Some lawmakers have expressed frustration with an apparent lack of progress in those talks. Following Wednesday’s vote, Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, a vocal critic of TikTok, said of the process: “My patience is running out.”
On Tuesday, US lawmakers led by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill to ban TikTok in the United States more generally, along with other apps based in, or under the “substantial influence” of, countries that are considered foreign adversaries, including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. In introducing the bill, Rubio also indicated some frustration, saying that the federal government “has yet to take a single meaningful action” on the matter.
But several senators, including Warner and Hawley, have stopped short of endorsing Rubio’s proposal. On Thursday, Hawley said he would be “fine” if the US government and TikTok reached a deal to safeguard US users’ data. “But if they don’t do that … then I think we’re going to have to look at more stringent measures,” Hawley said.
In the past two weeks, at least seven states have said they will bar public employees from using the app on government devices, including Alabama, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Texas. (Another state, Nebraska, banned TikTok from state devices in 2020.)
Some US government agencies have independently taken steps to limit TikTok usage among their employees. Already, the US military, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have restricted the app from government-owned devices. But Wednesday’s bill would apply to the entire federal workforce.