Sen. Warner Expresses Grave Concerns Over TikTok’s National Security Risk

Sen. Warner Expresses Grave Concerns Over TikTok’s National Security Risk
The TikTok app logo is pictured in Tokyo on Sept. 28, 2020. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)
Michael Washburn
TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, whose users are now estimated to exceed 1.5 billion worldwide, has come under harsh criticism from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said during a Feb. 2 interview with Fox Business that his “patience is running thin” over the Biden administration’s lack of progress in determining the extent of Chinese engineers’ access to the personal data of TikTok users in the United States.

“I’ve been raising concerns about TikTok for months, and let’s go into the two concerns I have. One, the amount of data that TikTok is collecting, since so many of our users are kids, on our kids, that that data resides in China. And even though TikTok has said that’s not the case, there have been constant examples where it has been proven that Chinese engineers are still getting access to that data.”

The second area of concern that Warner raised has to do with TikTok’s corporate leadership dictating the content that comes before users’ eyes.

“My concern, since every company in China now has to owe its first allegiance, not to shareholders or customers, but to the Communist Party. The Communist Party could say, well, we don’t want to show any videos that are all flattering to Taiwan, or we want to make sure any video about Taiwan only shows Taiwan as part of China. So the ability to use this as a misinformation or propaganda piece is huge.”

Warner went on to express his doubts that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is up to the task of overseeing how and for what ends TikTok is used here. Having conducted a review of the app for two years, he said, CFIUS has still not arrived at clear and reliable conclusions or offered useful guidance about TikTok.

“There are some legal problems even there. But if this was easy, I think the Justice Department and Treasury would have come up with a solution. On these technology problems where if the source code still resides in China and if the engineers are updating these applications—they’re not static—on a regular basis, where are those upgrades coming from?” Warner asked.

“I’m willing to give TikTok and Biden administration the chance to make the case, but my patience is running thin,” he added.

Warner noted that other lawmakers, including Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and several governors, have concluded that the risks posed by TikTok are too great and the app should not be available to U.S. users. Addressing the problems and resolving the national security issues would be a tall order, he acknowledged.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a technology proposition here that could separate, but it’s a big, big hill to climb. And that’s why I think we need, again, a firmer legal basis to go forward, not just on TikTok,” the senator said.

TikTok had already come under scrutiny in recent months for its alleged spreading of disinformation related to the Ukraine war. In March 2022, journalism watchdog NewsGuard published an extensive report presenting its findings that both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Kremlin propaganda of dubious veracity had circulated via the platform.

“TikTok continues to be fertile ground for dangerous disinformation, fed to a young audience,” the report stated.

The Epoch Times has reached out to TikTok for comment.

Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics for The Epoch Times. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”
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