US Lawmakers Seek to Bar Federal Employees From Using TikTok

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
May 17, 2020Updated: July 16, 2020

U.S. Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) have introduced a proposal aimed at curbing security threats posed by the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

The measure would prevent all federal employees from downloading and using TikTok or any other apps developed by its parent company ByteDance on government-issued phones.

“TikTok is a Chinese-owned company and is required by law to share whatever information the Chinese Communist Party wants whenever it wants,” Buck said in a statement from his office. “TikTok is a cybersecurity threat to our country. We cannot allow China’s parasitic spyware app to collect data from United States government officials.”

China’s national intelligence law, which took effect in 2017, allows the regime in Beijing access to all data stored within its national borders.

Several U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of State and Homeland Security, have already barred employees from using TikTok because of security concerns.

The House bill, named “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” is a companion measure to a Senate bill (S. 3455) introduced by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in March.

“With the growing sophistication of cyber attacks, we must be proactive to protect our government networks from intrusion. Banning the use of TikTok on government devices is critical to ensure our networks remain secure,” Correa said in the statement.

TikTok, known as “Douyin” in China, was launched by ByteDance in 2016. The app is extremely popular inside and outside of China, with an estimate of more than 800 million active users worldwide.

In April, market research firm Sensor Tower reported that TikTok has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

The app has also come under fire for its lack of privacy protection for underage users.

TikTok agreed in February 2019 to pay a $5.7 million fine to settle U.S. government charges that it illegally collected personal information from underage users, in violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

On May 14, several U.S. advocacy groups, including Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying that TikTok has continued to violate COPPA, such as failing to delete underage users’ personal information that was obtained prior to the settlement.

“For years, TikTok has ignored COPPA, thereby ensnaring perhaps millions of underage children in its marketing apparatus, and putting children at risk of sexual predation,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, in a statement.

“Now, even after being caught red-handed by the FTC, TikTok continues to flout the law. We urge the Commission to take swift action and sanction TikTok again,” he added.

Concerns about children’s data were also raised in the Netherlands. In early May, the Dutch Data Protection Authority said it would “examine whether TikTok adequately protects the privacy of Dutch children,” Reuters reported.

Other legislation aimed at addressing TikTok’s threats includes the Online Consumer Protection Act of 2020 (H.R.6570), which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) on April 21. The measure would require software marketplace operators and developers of specific foreign apps to provide consumers with a warning about security risks prior to their download.