A bill (pdf) to fight the flow of Americans’ sensitive personal data to China and other countries that threaten national security was introduced on Nov. 18 by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in the wake of a hearing that raised concerns over Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok.
TikTok had said it’s hired a U.S.-based auditing firm to analyze the app’s data security practices, in a letter to lawmakers at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing chaired by Hawley on Nov. 5.
During the hearing, Hawley said all it would take is “one knock on the door of their parent company based in China from a Communist Party official” for the data to be sent to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He requested that TikTok executives testify before the panel—nobody showed up.
Beijing-based ByteDance Technology Co., which owns TikTok, is facing a national security review over its $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly in 2017.
“Current law makes it far too easy for hostile foreign governments like China to access Americans’ sensitive data,” Hawley said in a Nov. 18 statement. “Chinese companies with vast amounts of personal data on Americans are required by Chinese law to provide that data to Chinese intelligence services.”
“If your child uses TikTok, there’s a chance the Chinese Communist Party knows where they are, what they look like, what their voices sound like, and what they’re watching,” he continued. “That’s a feature TikTok doesn’t advertise.”
In TikTok’s letter to lawmakers, TikTok U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas said the company stores all U.S. user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. While TikTok claims the Chinese regime doesn’t have jurisdiction over the content of the app, lawmakers have noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws.
Hawley said U.S. companies operating in China also have these risks, as Chinese law allows the communist regime to seize data from American companies operating in China “whenever it wants, for whatever reason it wants.” The legislation names China and Russia specifically over concerns relating to data privacy and security.
In order to enter the Chinese market, some American companies agree to give sensitive data to Beijing in exchange. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that Chinese law “compels U.S. companies that are operating in China … to provide whatever information the government wants, whenever it wants.”
“We should expect foreign surveillance efforts from China to use platforms like TikTok because they are more modern and attract a younger, easily influenceable crowd,” Charity Wright, a cyber threat intelligence adviser at IntSights with 15 years of experience with the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency, told The Epoch Times earlier this month.
The Chinese communist regime has representatives in almost every large company in China, Wright said. The concerns over TikTok come amid broader anxiety over forced technology transfers from U.S. companies to Chinese authorities and intellectual property theft.
Over the past 12 months, TikTok has been downloaded more than 750 million times, according to research firm Sensor Tower; which is more than new users of Facebook, Youtube, or Snapchat in the same time period. In the first quarter of this year, TikTok was the most downloaded application worldwide on the app store.