Banning TikTok from government devices has bipartisan support in the US, but some Democratic lawmakers in Kansas oppose extending one imposed by their party’s governor because they don’t want a state law to attack a company by name.
The Republican-controlled Kansas House voted 109-12 on Thursday to pass a bill banning access to TikTok by electronic devices owned or issued to a state employee. The measure appears to have bipartisan support in the GOP-dominated State Senate.
In late December, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly responded to concerns about Chinese ownership of the popular social media app with an order keeping it off government devices. However, a new law would cover agencies or institutions not under their direct control, such as public universities or the Department of Insurance.
And during a brief debate, members of the House of Representatives added that the ban would also apply to any app or website using ByteDance Ltd. belongs to the private Chinese company that owns TikTok, as well as any subsidiary, successor company or company that is “directly or indirectly controlled” by ByteDance.
Congress and more than half of US states have banned TikTok from government devices. Most of the Kansas House’s critics have been Democrats, and they questioned listing companies by name in a statute — something Kansas doesn’t typically do, even when it comes to providing taxpayer-funded incentives to bolster a single company’s project to lure to the state.
“What’s next, right? Today it is TikTok. Tomorrow it’ll be Twitter or Facebook,” said Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Kansas City-area Democrat. “For us, it’s important to be able to communicate with our constituents the way we want.”
TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teenagers. But there have long been bipartisan concerns in Washington that China could use its legal and regulatory power to confiscate American user data or attempt to spread misinformation or pro-China narratives.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing rose when a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted and shot down over the US earlier this month. There is also increased interest in Congress and in US states, including Kansas, in restricting foreign ownership of property, particularly agricultural land.
“If I had my way, we’d ban any mobile app or website that comes out of China, but we’ll deal with that another day,” said Rep. Stephen Owens, a Republican from central Kansas.
In Arizona, a state house committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a Republican proposal to ban TikTok on government devices after no opposition.
The measure does not name TikTok, but describes a “covered application” in such a way that it applies to the app. His sponsor, Republican Rep. Matt Gress of Phoenix, said government regulations don’t allow use of the company’s name.
Gress said his move addressed concerns about the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s ability to capture “crucial details about personal, private Internet activities.”
TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown said it’s working to “sensibly address” security concerns from US and state officials, saying the states’ bans aren’t improving security.
“State lawmakers are pushing bans on TikTok based on nothing more than the hypothetical concerns they’ve heard on the news,” Brown said in an email to The Associated Press.
Despite TikTok’s popularity among young people, some public university systems also ban TikTok on their devices. The Kansas Board of Regents has done so at its main offices, but the state universities under its oversight have not. Regents CEO Blake Flanders said Thursday such a move was “much more complicated”.
“There are so many users,” he said. “They have thousands of devices in dormitories.”
Woodard and other critics of the Kansas law said Kelly’s executive order on TikTok was sufficient to address concerns about the app.
State Assemblywoman JoElla Hoye, a Kansas City-area Democrat, suggested that naming a specific company in Kansas law conflicts with the name of the bill’s sponsor — the House Committee on Legislative Modernization.
She said after voting no, “In how many decades will we even know what TikTok is?”
Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report from Phoenix.
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