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TikTok ban in US edges closer as Senate passes crucial bill

TikTok logo and USA flag
TikTok logo and USA flag

President Joe Biden moved a step closer to banning TikTok in the US after the Senate passed a new law ordering its Chinese owner to sell the app or face it being blocked.

The bill passed in a landslide vote, with 79 senators in favour and 18 against, leaving it to the White House to sign off the proposed block. Mr Biden has already said he will wave through the bill.

The law effectively orders Bytedance, TikTok’s China-headquartered owner, to divest the popular music video app, or have it blocked from smartphone app stores offered by Apple and Google, as well as other web services.

The passage of the new bill, which sailed through Congress by 360 votes to 58, follows years of calls from China hawks for a US crackdown on TikTok over national security fears and concerns for American data.

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Donald Trump attempted to outlaw the app in 2020, but the effort was bogged down in US courts before he was defeated in the US presidential election.

Mr Biden largely dropped his presidential rival’s crusade against TikTok, however US politicians in Congress and the Senate eventually put on a united front to push through the current bill.

Marco Rubio, the veteran Republican senator, said Chinese ownership of TikTok had been “dangerously shortsighted” amid rising tensions with China in a technological Cold War. “This is a good move for America,” he said.

TikTok has always denied posing a national security threat and has pledged to fight the law in court. The video sharing app has accused US politicians of stripping citizens of free speech by banning the popular app used by 170 million Americans.

It has always said it would never share US data with the Chinese government. Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy, told staff the company would launch a legal challenge as soon as it is signed into law.

So far, TikTok has had success at overturning state-led efforts to ban the app, which have previously been declared unconstitutional.

While the bill presents the possibility of Bytedance selling TikTok, China has threatened to block any sale of its most successful technological export. Microsoft and Oracle both previously expressed an interest in buying TikTok, which would be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Although Mr Trump previously supported a ban on TikTok, the Republican presidential candidate’s stance has since shifted, raising further questions over the app’s ultimate fate should he defeat Mr Biden in November.

Mr Trump has warned that a ban on TikTok would simply empower its rival, Facebook. Young TikTok users have inundated American politicians with calls urging them to step back from banning their favourite app.