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Lawmakers unveil bipartisan bill to ban TikTok nationwide

Cybersecurity experts, the FBI director and other top officials have warned that the Chinese government could use the popular app to spy on Americans.

WASHINGTON — A group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban TikTok in the U.S., following warnings from the FBI director and cybersecurity experts who have said China could use the social media platform for spying.

The bill would "protect Americans by blocking and prohibiting all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern," the lawmakers said in a news release.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., with a companion measure introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. The lawmakers said the bill aims to protect Americans from foreign adversaries who might use certain social media to surveil Americans, learn sensitive data about them, and spread influence campaigns or propaganda.

Under the measure, the president could impose sanctions on TikTok and other social media companies to prevent commercial operation in the U.S.

With Congress in session for only a few more days this year, the bill is unlikely to be considered in either chamber. But it could be reintroduced next year, when its prospects in the House would be higher under a Republican majority.

In June, BuzzFeed News reported that China-based employees of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, had accessed nonpublic data about U.S. users. TikTok denied turning over any U.S. data to Chinese officials and said it never would, though it acknowledged that Chinese employees have some access to it.

After the November midterm elections, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned members of Congress that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control users' devices, for influence or espionage purposes.

Several states have taken steps to prohibit the use of TikTok on government devices. Earlier this month, Maryland banned the use of TikTok and other Chinese and Russian products by state agencies, citing reporting by NBC News about hackers linked to China's government stealing millions in Covid benefits from state governments in the U.S.

In a statement responding to Maryland's ban, a TikTok spokesperson said, “We believe the concerns driving these bans are largely fueled by misinformation about our company. We are always happy to meet with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices."