GOP senators introduce bill banning TikTok on government devices

GOP senators introduce bill banning TikTok on government devices
© Greg Nash

Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHawley unveils initiative to rehire workers laid off during coronavirus crisis, bolster domestic production Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (R-Mo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would ban federal employees from using TikTok on government devices.

The No TikTok on Government Devices Act comes after the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security each voluntarily instituted bans on the popular Chinese-owned short-form video platform.

Scrutiny on the social media app's ownership, Chinese company ByteDance, has risen in lockstep with its skyrocketing popularity — it has been downloaded over 123 million times in the U.S. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The concern is largely tied to a 2017 Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to comply with data requests for state intelligence work. 

"TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing," Hawley said in a statement. "As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices."

Scott added that continued use of TikTok by government officials "is a risk to our network and a threat to our national security."

"We should all be very concerned about the threat of Communist China, and I hope my colleagues will join me to implement this ban immediately and protect our national security," he said in a statement.

TikTok has continually rebuffed claims from lawmakers that the company presents a security risk, and there is no public evidence to suggest that the Chinese government has any access to the data of U.S. users.

The company has also insisted that it does not cooperate with the Chinese government, pointing out that it stores data on Americans in the U.S. with a backup in Singapore.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked about the bill following Hawley's announcement of it, a spokesperson for TikTok said that the Missouri lawmaker's concerns are “unfounded.”

"While we think the concerns are unfounded, we understand them and are continuing to further strengthen our safeguards while increasing our dialogue with lawmakers to help explain our policies," the spokesperson told The Hill Tuesday.

It remains to be seen whether bans on the app will be effective.

Despite several agencies rolling out their own bans, enforcement of those bans has been spotty, with many military members still posting on TikTok.

Certain intelligence — like location of employees — would also theoretically be accessible by China if government officials have TikTok on their personal devices, which the bill does not cover.

"It'd be better if they didn't do it on their personal phones," Hawley told reporters Tuesday before acknowledging that "I don't know that we can reach them by legislation."