TikTok ban bill faces Senate hurdles amid data privacy concerns

A bill that could lead to a ban on TikTok on U.S. phones still faces an uphill battle as its fate hangs in the balance in Congress. 

The House passed a bill earlier this month that would ban the popular app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake. 

However, it has run into roadblocks in the Senate, where there is little unanimity on the best approach to ensure that China doesn’t access private data from the app’s 170 million U.S. users or influence them through its algorithms.

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Other factors are holding the Senate back. The tech industry is broad and falls under the jurisdiction of several different committees. Plus, the issues at play don't fall cleanly on partisan lines, making it harder for lawmakers to agree on priorities and how legislation should be written. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has so far been reluctant to embrace the TikTok bill, for example, calling for hearings first and suggesting that the Senate may want to rewrite it.

"We’re going through a process," Cantwell said. "It’s important to get it right."

Some lawmakers are worried that blocking TikTok could anger millions of young people who use the app, a crucial segment of voters in November's election. But Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. says "the debate has shifted" from talk of an outright ban a year ago to the House bill which would force TikTok, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd., to sell its stake for the app to continue operating.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in a television interview that aired Sunday, acknowledged the popularity of the app and that it has become an income stream for many people. She said the administration does not intend to ban TikTok but instead deal with its ownership. "We understand its purpose and its utility and the enjoyment that it gives a lot of folks," Harris told ABC's "This Week."

Republicans are divided. While most of them support the TikTok legislation, others are wary of overregulation and the government targeting one specific entity.

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"The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X, formerly Twitter.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican who has worked with  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on the artificial intelligence effort, says he thinks the Senate can eventually pass a TikTok bill, even if it's a different version. He says the classified briefings "convinced the vast majority of members" that they have to address the collection of data from the app and TikTok's ability to push out misinformation to users.

"I think it’s a clear danger to our country if we don’t act," he said. "It does not have to be done in two weeks, but it does have to be done."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.