Why might TikTok be banned in the US?

The popular app has already been banned on federal devices in the country and, if the House and Senate pass a new bill, could be inaccessible across America

A bill that could see a full ban on TikTok imposed in the US is one step closer to being passed by the government.

On March 1, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 24 to 16 to give President Joe Biden the power to enforce a ban on the social media app, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

TikTok is used by over 100million people in the US, but officials are concerned it, and other Chinese-owned apps, could pose a security risk to the country and its citizens. If a full ban on the platform were to be put in place, it would be the biggest restriction on a social media app in the US’ history.

Why does the US want to ban TikTok? 


It is feared that sensitive personal data on US citizens and businesses could be passed to the Chinese government. Although TikTok has said it would never comply with an order from the government to hand over any data collected, the country’s 2017 National Intelligence Law and 2014 Counter-Espionage Law don’t give companies the power to refuse to “support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work”.

TikTok on a tablet. CREDIT: Marina Bogachyova / Alamy Stock Photo

There are also concerns that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could weaponise the app to spread misinformation, with the potential for it to influence political discourse and election results if it is successful at doing so. “TikTok is a national security threat,” Representative Michael McCaul told Reuters.

“It is time to act. Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP (Communist Party of China) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into their phone.”

Where has TikTok already been banned? 

The app has already been banned from being downloaded or accessed on any federal devices or systems in the US, with exceptions if it is necessary for “law enforcement activities, national security interests and activities, and security research”. More than 30 states in the country have also introduced bans on the app on state-owned devices.

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump previously issued an executive order to ban TikTok in 2020, but the ban was stopped in court. Biden then revoked Trump’s order in June 2021.


TikTok is now not allowed to be accessed on the devices belonging to the state in Canada and at EU policy institutions too. They follow Taiwan in implementing such a ban last year.

Elsewhere, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have all previously introduced temporary bans on the app due to the spread of content that the respective governments deemed inappropriate. TikTok was given a full ban alongside other Chinese-owned apps in India in 2020, with the country citing data privacy and national security concerns.

What are the next steps in the passing of the bill? 

For Biden to be given the power to introduce a full ban on TikTok, the bill needs to be passed by the full House and the US Senate. The company’s chief executive Shou Zi Chew already met lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month and will appear before the US Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23. According to McCaul, the bill will be voted on by the House this month, although it is unclear if that will be before Chew’s next D.C. appearance.

If the bill is passed by the House and the Senate, it would require Biden to impose a ban on any company that may transfer sensitive personal data to China. Democrat Gregory Meeks, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said this would mean sanctions would have to be placed on the Korean and Taiwanese companies that supply semiconductor chips and other equipment to Chinese companies.

How likely is a full ban on TikTok introduced in the US? 

Democrats are currently largely opposed to the bill, saying that it is being rushed and instead needs to be debated and consulted on with experts. This poses a problem for those hoping it will be passed as the party controls the Senate, making it unlikely that it would get the votes needed to be brought into policy.

Even if the bill was passed by the House and the Senate, it would likely face a challenge in the courts – with experts doubting that it would be upheld. Anupam Chander, a professor of law and technology at Georgetown University, told ABC News: “I’m skeptical that a ban would survive constitutional scrutiny in the U.S. because we have a First Amendment right to receive information, even information from adversary countries.”

Biden himself told reporters last month that he was “not sure” if the government would impose a full ban on TikTok in the US.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty

How has China responded to the potential ban? 

Both the Chinese government and TikTok have issued statements condemning the potential ban. “How unsure of itself can the world’s top superpower be to fear a young people’s favourite app like that?” Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said. “[The US government] has been over-stretching the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress foreign companies. We firmly oppose those wrong actions.”

A spokesperson for TikTok, meanwhile, told ABC News: “The ban of TikTok on federal devices was passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately, that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theatre. We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won’t have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans.”

Organisations in the US are also opposing the bill, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calling it “a serious violation of our First Amendment rights”. Senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff added: “Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.”

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