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Senate Moves to Ban TikTok on Government Phones

TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 13, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia.
TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 13, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia.
Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday prohibiting federal workers from downloading TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app the White House has recently threatened to ban citing national security concerns.

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The ban, which specifically applies to government devices, was approved via unanimous consent. (There was no vote, but no senator objected to its passing.) A companion bill introduced in May has yet to receive a vote on the House floor; however, a defense spending bill approved by the House last month included a similar provision.

“In light of all we know, it is unthinkable to me that we should continue to permit federal employees, those workers entrusted with sensitive government data, to access this app on their work phones and computers,” said Senator Josh Hawley, who introduced the bill in March. Senators Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, John Kennedy, and Martha McSally are cosponsors.

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The move comes as talks reportedly continue between Microsoft and TikTok-owner ByteDance Ltd. regarding a potential sale. Microsoft acknowledged the talks on Sunday and said it was looking to potentially absorb part of ByteDance’s business. President Donald Trump had issued a public threat to ban TikTok entirely and prohibit a sale—actions that remain legally murky—but later reversed course.

ByteDance’s overall value has been estimated at somewhere between $50 billion and $100 billion.

U.S. government officials have for months expressed concerns that TikTok could pose a threat to national security should ByteDance decide to send the data it collects on U.S. persons to the Chinese government. TikTok, meanwhile, has promised to resist efforts by Beijing to obtain its user data, which it says it stores abroad. The app itself does not function in China.

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“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” ByteDance said.

Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security

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DISCUSSION

arcanumv
Arcanum Five

Dammit. Now we won’t get to see Mitch McConnell’s version of the Renegade dance.