A group of Republican lawmakers is introducing bicameral legislation to ban the use of the social media app TikTok by government employees on government devices – a response to the Biden administration’s decision to pause former President Donald Trump’s effort to ban the app in the U.S. altogether.
The bill is being sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and in the House by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) – all known for their hawkish views on China.
The bill, called the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, would require the Office of Management and Budget to create “standards and guidelines” for executive government agencies “requiring the removal” of TikTok within 60 days of its passage.
The push represents a legislative continuation of Trump’s anti-TikTok crusade, in which he attempted to force a sale from Chinese company ByteDance to a U.S.-based company by moving to ban the app by executive order, which was blocked by a federal judge in December.
Though Trump’s TikTok efforts were controversial – in part over his insistence the U.S. treasury would get a cut of the sale – suspicion of the company is bipartisan: a warning from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer prompted the U.S. Army and TSA to review TikTok security.
Hawley’s bill was passed unanimously in the Senate last session, and the re-introduction comes as lawmakers in both parties, including Schumer, are teaming up on legislation to address U.S. economic competitiveness with China.
Whether the House takes up Buck’s companion bill is another question, given that the same Democratic majority that failed to consider it last session remains in power, albeit by a significantly dwindled majority.
As with many of Trump’s policies, the Biden administration says its pause of Trump’s actions on TikTok is meant to allow for government agencies to review them.
Last year, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee both required staffers to delete TikTok from not only their work devices, but their personal phones as well, The Verge reported at the time.
“There is absolutely no reason why this application, which Beijing can use to advance its malign foreign policy initiatives, should be utilized on federal devices,” Rubio said in a statement, with Scott alleging China will “stop at nothing to infiltrate our government networks and steal American technology and intellectual property.”
Despite concerns about TikTok’s data collection and Chinese origins, researchers at the University of Toronto last month found no evidence the app collects user data without consent and concluded it poses no greater national security risk than U.S.-based social media apps.
Hawley, who has positioned himself as the Senate’s most steadfast opponent of President Joe Biden by leading the effort to overturn his election victory and by voting against nearly all of his cabinet nominees, attacked Biden in his statement: “Joe Biden and Big Tech refuse to take the threat of Chinese espionage seriously.” Biden’s signature would be needed for the bill to become law.