Senator announces plans to ban government employees from TikTok amid security fears

The viral video-sharing platform has  frequently raised concerns over their use of personal data

Louise Hall
Thursday 05 March 2020 00:28 GMT
Iain Duncan Smith says UK is 'alone' in working with Huawei

A Republican Senator has announced he will introduce legislation banning federal employees from using TikTok in an effort to protect national security.

On Wednesday, Josh Hawley said that workers will not be allowed to use the video-sharing app on their devices, citing conflict between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology.

The social media platform, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, allows users to share short videos.

The app has over 800 million active users and is hugely popular among younger people, with around 60% of its monthly active audience landing between the ages of 16 to 24, according to the company last year.

“This is a necessary step to protect the security of the United States and the data security of every American,” Mr Hawley said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on big tech's connections to China, according to The Hill.

“TikTok is scooping up immense amounts of data and they are sharing it with Beijing; they are required to,” Hawley told reporters according to Reuters.

“For federal employees it really is a no-brainer. It’s a major security risk ... do we really want Beijing having geo-location data of all federal employees? Do we really want them having their keystrokes,” he said.

Mr Hawley said the ban he is proposing would include the use of the app on government-issued devices.

Several US agencies that deal with national security and intelligence issues have banned employees from using the app already.

The long-running tension relates to a belief that some Chinese companies may allow the country's government to "install backdoors" into their systems.

US lawmakers and intelligence officials have also warned that Chinese law means that companies are required to hand over data in investigations, The Hill reported.

This isn’t the first time US officials have raised concerns over the potential security risks of systems owned in Beijing, and TikTok in particular.

A class-action lawsuit in 2019 against the platform filed that the app comes pre-installed with “Chinese surveillance software.”

Not long after, the US Army and Navy announced the ban on their own issued devices, citing similar security risks to Mr Hawley.

A bulletin from the Defence Department described TikTok “as having potential security risks associated with its use”.

Reuters reported in an exclusive investigation that in November 2019 the US government launched a national review of the video-sharing app.

Two years after the Chinese company behind TikTok acquired the US social media app for $1bn, sources told Reuters that the committee which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks were reviewing the deal.

Criticism of the platform occurred as recently as last week when Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit, branded the platform "fundamentally parasitic" referring to the way he claims it exploits privacy and user data.

The Hill reported that there is no public evidence to suggest that the Chinese government has any access to the data collected from US and that an official from TikTok called Hawley’s concerns “unfounded.”

In May 2019 the US added Chinese tech giant Huawei to a trading blacklist, with the same issues surrounding national and data security prompting the move.

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