April 13, 2023, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 834 (SB0834) into law, becoming effective immediately upon Lee’s signature. Also known as House Bill 1445 (HB1445) sponsored by Representatives Jeremy Faison and Jon Lundberg, SB0384 passed the Tennessee Senate on March 2, 2023 and passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on March 23, 2023.
SB0834 states that “A public postsecondary institution that provides Internet access to students, faculty, staff, or the general public shall not allow an individual to access a video platform using the institution's network if the platform is owned by a company headquartered outside of the United States.” Senator Jon Lundberg sponsored the bill in the Senate, introducing the bill on March 2, 2023. Lundberg opened the hearing for SB0834 by explaining the relevance of the bill, stating “A rhetorical question: would you give your WiFi password to your neighbors? Whether you live in a house or an apartment, Mr. Speaker, I suggest you wouldn’t. And you could say for a couple of reasons, [such as] you don’t wanna slow down your WiFi. But I think more importantly than that, it would give access to your neighbors to your information. … We do not need to provide access on our University websites for that because our Universities are conducting a great deal of research. And I think, Mr. Speaker, in your area where UT has a partnership with Oakridge and the amount of information that is collected; we do not need to open that door. … I said in committee, Mr. Speaker, something that I’ll tell you, sir: the biggest secret in the military. I can reveal that secret. That biggest secret is candidly how we obtain secrets. Do we obtain those secrets by human intelligence? Do we obtain those secrets by satellite intelligence, radio intercepts? That’s an extremely important part of the intelligence community’s ability to get information, not just by us, but from other countries to us. And that is why this need is so important.” When the hearing concluded, SB0834 passed the Tennessee Senate with 28 votes in favor and one vote in opposition, although three senators chose not to vote.
After SB0834 cleared the Tennessee Senate, the bill made its way to the Tennessee House of Representatives. On the March 23, Representative Jeremy Faison elaborated on what exactly SB0834 hopes to accomplish, stating that “This bill is putting into law that our higher education colleges that have WiFi will not make available on WiFi any app that is associated in part or in whole with the Chinese Communist Party.”
During the hearing, a few representatives questioned the bill, including Representative John Ray Clemmons, who asked why Faison sought to ban TikTok. Faison responded, saying that “Ths bill does not mention [TikTok], we’re just saying if you’re associated with the Chinese Communist Party.” Clemmons also asked Faison whether he knows of any other apps besides TikTok that Faison knows about that would qualify to be banned under the legislation, to which Faison replied with “If there were, I’d hope they’d ban those, too.” Clemmons questioned the logic of the bill, deliberating “But we don’t have any concerns about the computer software that’s bought by the State of Tennessee or any other governmental agency that is produced or made in China or the iPhones sitting on almost every member’s desk that is perhaps manufactured in China that actual holds data, that collects data, information, photographs? We don’t have any concern about that, it’s just this specific app?” Faison responded by stating “I would probably support you if you brought a bill to take care of those things.” Following the Tennessee House of Representatives’ consideration of the bill, SB0834 passed the House with 80 votes in favor of the bill and 11 votes in opposition. Following the passage of both Tennessee congressional houses, SB0834 reached Governor Bill Lee’s desk for action on April 4, 2023.