TikTok is on the path to be prohibited on all devices issued by the U.S. government following passage Thursday of a Senate bill proposed months before President Trump threatened to ban the app.
The Senate agreed without objection to pass legislation barring federal employees from downloading or using the popular Chinese-owned app on any government-owned devices.
Companion legislation easily cleared the House of Representatives weeks earlier, indicating Congress is on course to take action as TikTok faces scrutiny from several sides.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican leading the campaign against TikTok, called it a “major security threat” moments before colleagues agreed by voice vote to pass his bill.
“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,” Mr. Hawley said on the Senate floor. “Not only is it inappropriate. It is irresponsible. This app represents a clear and present security risk at a time when we need to be clear-eyed about the threat from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Launched in China in 2016, TikTok has been downloaded more than 2 billion times in the years that followed and currently boasts to have about 100 million users in the U.S. alone.
And while lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been scrutinizing TikTok for several months, the White House just recently entered the fray when Mr. Trump said last week he would ban it.
Mr. Trump said Wednesday that Microsoft has talked about buying TikTok from ByteDance, its Beijing-based parent company, but added that “a very big proportion of that price would have to go to the Treasury of the United States.”
Pending any developments about a potential acquisition, Mr. Hawley stressed Thursday that Congress should act to some degree as soon as possible.
“Every day we wait is a day ByteDance can collect more information on and about Americans,” Mr. Hawley said. “Today is the day to take action. And even if TikTok ends up being sold eventually, it will be the responsibility of this body, the responsibility of all of us, to make sure no trace of Beijing’s influence remains. None at all.”
Several government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense, State and Homeland Security, have already passed their own policies banning TikTok from devices they issue. The “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” broadens that prohibition to cover federal offices across the board.
Rep. Ken Buck, Colorado Republican, offered the companion bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The House voted 336-71 last month to include it in the annual military spending package.
“TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it’s their home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection which we recognize is not what federal government devices are for,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Times following the Senate vote. “We’ve hired nearly 1,000 people to our US team this year alone, and we’re proud to be hiring another 10,000 employees into great paying jobs across the US. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe app experience that protects our users’ privacy.”
A spokesperson for the company previously told The Times that Mr. Hawley’s concerns are “unfounded” after he initially offered the bill in March.