RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Senate passed a bill banning TikTok and WeChat on state government-issued devices after two Democrats sided with Republicans and a tie-breaking vote from Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears.
The legislation from state Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) would prevent any employee or member of a “public body,” including state lawmakers, city council and school board representatives, from downloading or using the apps on government devices.
It would also ban them from accessing websites developed by two Chinese companies, TikTok’s maker ByteDance and Tencent Holdings, the operator of WeChat, on the devices or from using the apps or sites while connected to a network owned or maintained by the commonwealth.
There has been a bipartisan push to ban the apps from government-issued phones, computers and tablets over concerns that China could gain access to users’ personal data. Several states, including Virginia, have implemented TikTok bans on state-issued devices.
Congress has also prohibited the app from federal government-issued devices. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, praised Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s decision to ban TikTok on state-issued devices.
“TikTok has the stamp of approval of the Chinese Communist Party and it poses a serious national security threat due to its data collection practices and its ability to reach and manipulate Americans,” Sen. Warner said in a statement last December. “I hope to see more states take action to keep our government technology out of the CCP’s reach.”
Critics of the proposal raised concerns about adding the names of the companies into Virginia code, arguing that they could change their names and make the legislation moot. For example, State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) told senators that it could be changed to “TokTik” next week.
Some lawmakers, including state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), also called the effort redundant, pointing to the ban imposed by Gov. Youngkin.
Two Democrats, state Sens. Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax), the Virginia Senate majority leader, and John J. Bell (Loudoun), voted with Senate Republicans to support the bill.
Lt. Gov. Earle-Sears, president of the Virginia Senate, cast the deciding vote to break the 20-20 tie.
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