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Amid TikTok bans in the US, some are hesitant to write its name into law

TOPEKA, Kan. – Banning TikTok from government devices enjoys bipartisan support in the US, but some Democratic lawmakers in Kansas oppose extending the ban imposed by their party’s governor because they don’t want a state law targeting a company by name .

The Republican-controlled Kansas House voted 109 to 12 on Thursday to pass a bill to ban access to TikTok for any electronic device 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 over Chinese ownership of the popular social media app with an executive order to keep it off state devices. However, a new law would target agencies or institutions not under its direct control, such as state universities or the Department of Insurance.

And during a brief debate, House members added language to also apply the ban to any app or website owned by ByteDance Ltd., the private Chinese company that owns TikTok, as well as any subsidiaries, successors, or businesses” controlled directly or indirectly” by ByteDance.

Congress and more than half of US states have banned TikTok from government devices. Most of the Kansas House critics were Democrats and questioned companies listed by name in a law — something Kansas typically doesn’t do, even by creating taxpayer-funded incentives to lure a single company’s project into the state.

“What’s next, right? Today is TikTok. Tomorrow it will be Twitter or Facebook,” said State Representative Brandon Woodard, a Kansas City-area Democrat. “It’s important for us to be able to communicate with our constituents however we want.”

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teenagers. But there has long been bipartisan concern in Washington that China could use its legal and regulatory clout to seize American user data or attempt to spread disinformation or pro-China narratives.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have escalated with the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States and its shooting down earlier this month. Interest from Congress and US states, including Kansas, to limit foreign ownership of property, especially farmland, has also intensified.

“If I had my way, we would ban every piece of mobile application or website leaving China, but we’ll deal with that another day,” said Congressman 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 one voiced opposition.

The measure does not name TikTok but describes a “covered application” such that it applies to the app. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Matt Gress, of Phoenix, said the law does not permit the use of the company name.

Gress said his measure addresses concerns about the ability of China’s ruling Communist Party to capture “crucial details about personal and private activity on the Internet.”

TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown said it was working to “significantly address” the security concerns of US and state officials and said state bans do not improve safety.

“State lawmakers are pushing ahead with TikTok bans based on nothing more than hypothetical concerns they’ve heard in the news,” Brown said in an email to the Associated Press.

Despite TikTok’s popularity among young people, some public university systems are also banning TikTok on their devices. The Kansas Board of Regents did this in its main offices, but the state universities under its supervision did not. Regents CEO Blake Flanders said Thursday that such a step is “much more complicated”.

“There are so many users,” she said. “You have thousands of devices in residence halls.”

Woodard and other critics of the Kansas bill said Kelly’s executive order on TikTok is enough to address concerns about the app.

State Representative JoElla Hoye, a fellow Democrat from the Kansas City area, suggested that naming a specific company in Kansas law runs counter to the name of the bill’s sponsor: the House Committee on Legislative Modernization.

He said after voting no, “How many decades into it will we even know what TikTok is?”


Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report from Phoenix.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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