Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced Wednesday March 4, that a bill is underway that would restrict federal employees from using the well-known Chinese social network TikTok because of the high risk it poses to the security of the United States.
The lawmaker, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, explained during a Senate hearing on the issue of major technology connections with China that the application is not exempt from Chinese law requiring companies to share user data with Beijing.
“TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members in the leadership, and it is required by Chinese law to share user data with Beijing. TikTok has admitted that it has sent user data to China,” Hawley said.
“To put it bluntly, this is a major security risk for the American people. … This legislation is a necessary step to protect the security of the United States and the data security of every American,” Hawley added according to his website.
Hawley questioned whether it was really appropriate for Beijing to have the geographic location data of all federal employees, even more so given the ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology transfers.
According to Reuters, several U.S. agencies dealing with national security and intelligence issues already have banned their employees from using the application, which has become especially popular among teenagers.
Sixty percent of the 36.5 million active users of the application in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company reported last year.
The controversy surrounding the application’s privacy policies has been going on for a year, when Hawley spoke of the danger posed by the entry of Chinese technology platforms into the U.S. market.
At the time, Hawley stressed that the application was controlled by its Chinese parent company ByteDance, indicating that the company monitored the content that could be shared, reported the National Review.
“They can see who we talk to, what we talk about, where we congregate, what we capture on video. Not all of TikTok’s users are just kids, some work in government or for the military, others are celebrities or work for major American companies in positions of influence,” Hawley said, according to the National Review.
Since the opening of the committee’s hearings last year, the State Department, as well as the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, have banned the use of TikTok on federal government devices because of the risks it poses to cybersecurity.
Adam Hickey, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said, “In terms of leverage, I’m concerned about a company that does business here, but is ultimately accountable to a parent company in China and susceptible to leverage by the Chinese government. And so I think those who do business with those who do business with those companies may be exposing themselves to an actor who may be co-opted.”
The company had previously defended itself against the allegations by arguing that data stored from users in the United States was not linked to the jurisdiction of the content in China.
Other companies such as Apple have also been in discussions after FBI Director Christopher Wray shared with Hawley his concerns about the company’s data storage in China.
“Chinese law essentially compels Chinese companies and typically compels U.S. companies that are operating in China to have relationships with different kinds of Chinese companies to provide whatever information the government wants whenever it wants,” said Wray.
At the moment there is no clarity about an estimated time for introducing the legislation.