Tiktok Would Be Banned On Government Gadgets Under A Sweeping Spending Plan: As the latest evidence of concern over the company’s Chinese ownership, Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday added language in a must-pass omnibus spending package that would prohibit federal employees from downloading the TikTok app on government-issued phones and other devices.
TikTok, one of the most downloaded applications of all time, has taken over the offline world as well, causing growing concern among government officials who are understandably hesitant to give an upstart app such influence. Its meteoric rise has alarmed competitors, including Facebook’s parent company Meta.
With over a hundred million users, TikTok’s ban on government-issued gadgets is primarily symbolic. The move is significant because it follows similar prohibitions in 19 states, all of which are run by Republican governors, and calls from lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to ban the program for all phones across the United States.
“People are catching on to the fact that China is a hostile force,” said James Lewis, senior vice president, and director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lewis pointed out that social media programs produced in the United States, including Facebook and Twitter, are blocked in China. As he put it, “TikTok is caught up in that, guilty or not.”
TikTok, which is controlled by the Chinese company ByteDance, has been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) since 2019. CFIUS is a secretive federal agency with the authority to block commercial acquisitions that potentially threaten national security.
None of the negotiations’ specifics have been made public. The Washington Post has learned from four sources familiar with the talks that TikTok has agreed to separate its U.S. operations from those of ByteDance and to grant U.S. authorities veto power over the appointment of the company’s proposed three-member board and its top executives.
According to the four sources, the United States government would also establish hiring requirements for TikTok’s U.S. employees, a plan that would expose the company to more stringent government scrutiny than is experienced by any U.S. technology company at the present time. It was also revealed that the corporation has spent over $1.5 billion on the plan’s implementation so far.
The four individuals said the strategy would safeguard user information in the United States from prying eyes like those of the Chinese government or ByteDance’s headquarters in Beijing. According to the sources, the plan also anticipates the nomination of independent third-party monitors to conduct audits of the platform’s recommendation algorithms and content-moderation systems, with the blessing of the United States government.
According to the sources, the business has already begun explaining the concept to officials in the Biden administration in the hopes of garnering approval, and a CFIUS working group has voiced initial support. However, the corporation has not heard back from CFIUS since submitting the plan in August, and the panel’s authorities still have not approved it. This leaves the issue unsolved even as new government bans go into effect.
The agencies have not yet decided whether to endorse this idea or seek a different method, and administration officials have stated that no agreement is likely.
A spokesperson for the company Brooke Oberwetter described the decision to include the prohibition of TikTok on government-issued devices in the omnibus bill as a “political gesture that would do nothing to improve national security goals.”
Instead of encouraging the administration to finish its national security review, Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices, which has left Oberwetter and the rest of the company disappointed.
As Oberwetter put it, the corporation is continuing to advise lawmakers on its proposal while also “far underway” with implementing its data-security plan.
The $1.7 trillion omnibus funding package that would finance the United States government until most of 2023 include a provision to prohibit the use of TikTok on government equipment. The bill, which was unveiled by leading Democrats and Republicans early on Tuesday, must be passed by Congress by Friday or a partial government shutdown will occur.
If passed, the bill would give the White House Office of Management and Budget 60 days to “create standards and recommendations for executive agencies ordering the removal” of TikTok from government-issued devices.
The White House, the majority of the armed forces, and many federal agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security and State, have all banned the use of TikTok on government-issued devices.
In September, TikTok’s COO Vanessa Pappas testified before Congress and said that the company’s Chinese employees do not share any sensitive data with the Chinese government.
The Republican efforts to portray the Biden administration as weak on China have been intensifying, and the inclusion of the TikTok clause highlights the growing bipartisan anti-China fury in Congress. A bill to prevent the use of TikTok on government equipment was passed with 100% support from senators just last week.
The legislation’s sponsor, Republican Missouri senator Josh Hawley, dubbed TikTok “a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party” that poses serious threats to American national security.
It will be the first major strike against Big Tech that becomes legislation,” he tweeted on Tuesday after the bill was introduced.
Republicans in Washington, D.C. have made a point to use TikTok as a scapegoat, alleging without evidence that the corporation acts as a spy or propagandist for the Chinese government.
The Post initially revealed in March that Meta had hired a prominent Republican consulting firm to launch a statewide lobbying and media campaign depicting TikTok as a threat to American civilization. TikTok is Meta’s main competitor.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both supported the bill.
Joining other Republican states, Utah has banned TikTok from all public devices.
However, many people who agree that Chinese spying is a problem still believe that barring the program from government devices does not solve the problem. According to CSIS’s Lewis, Chinese cyber espionage over the past two decades has been robust, and this is cause for alarm.
Is there any cause for concern, then? “Yes,” Lewis confirmed. To what extent does [the proposed ban] alter the current state of affairs in terms of safety? Not even close.