US lawmakers advance bill on banning TikTok

A panel of US lawmakers voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would make it easier to ban Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok, amid criticism that the proposal threatens free speech.

The Deterring America's Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act passed the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee on a party-line vote but faces opposition from free speech campaigners and Democrats when it comes up for votes in the full House and Senate.

"My bill mandates the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten US national security," said the committee's chairman Michael McCaul.

"And make no mistake -- TikTok is a security threat. It allows (China) to manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans' data to be used for their malign activities."

TikTok is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, which is being scrutinized in multiple countries over privacy and surveillance concerns.

The legislation aims to counter a 1980s amendment barring the government from restricting the free flow of visual entertainment between foreign countries by making an exception for "sensitive personal data."

It requires the administration to impose penalties -- up to and including bans -- on companies determined to have knowingly given TikTok's user data to "any foreign person" with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

A TikTok official said the company was "disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward" in Congress.

"A US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide," spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement.

In a letter sent to the committee on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said the legislation would violate the First Amendment free speech rights of millions of Americans.

Gregory Meeks, the panel's top Democrat, bemoaned the "Republican instinct to ban things it fears, from books to speech."

"Before we take the unprecedented step of banning an app used by over 100 million Americans, harming our national security and infringing on their freedom of expression and speech, Congress must first adequately consult with the administration and other stakeholders," he said.