House passes important privacy bill overshadowed by TikTok fever

Everyone in DC is still talking about the potential TikTok ban. But the House of Representatives also passed a bill on data privacy this week – to much less fanfare. However, it still signifies that Congress is shaking off inertia on anything related to tech.

On Wednesday, the House unanimously passed a bill that would ban data brokers – third-party buyers and sellers of personal information – from selling the user data of Americans to the country’s geopolitical adversaries like China and Russia.

Of course, similar to the case of the House voting to present ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, with an ultimatum (sell it or we ban it), the bill – called The Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act – will also travel to the Senate and will have to be voted on once again.

Nevertheless, experts are calling the move a step in the right direction because, for years, legislators simply kept talking about privacy and data ownership without ever voting on any bill, be it the House or the Senate.

Plus, although both bills were introduced together, this week’s seems to have a clearer path to passage in the Senate. Seven progressive members of the House who opposed the TikTok bill have supported the data broker measure.

However, the bill on data brokers is narrowly targeted and only applies to third-party actors. This means that US tech firms like Apple, Meta, or X would not be banned from doing almost whatever they want with the user data they collect.

Still, the pressure is now on the Senate. If Senators endorse a TikTok ban before the second bill is also passed and signed by President Joe Biden, private data brokers will still be legally allowed to simply sell US user data to China, Russia, or, indeed, any country.

The Senate is undecided on how to proceed with the TikTok bill. It has instead opted to take a pause on the fast-track vote, wanting to consider the issue more carefully. President Biden has signaled that he would sign the law.

US lawmakers attacking ByteDance accuse the Chinese company of hoarding Americans’ data and sharing it with Beijing. The company has repeatedly denied this was the case.

The TikTok bill, The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, would force ByteDance to sell TikTok. It would apply to any apps owned or tied to a foreign adversary.

The House vote on a potential TikTok ban came just over a week after the bill was proposed following one public hearing with little debate, and followed action in Congress stalling for more than a year.