WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is giving all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices, as the Chinese-owned social media app comes under increasing scrutiny in Washington over security concerns.
The Office of Management and Budget calls the guidance, issued Monday, a “critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data.” Some agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State, already have restrictions in place; the guidance calls on the rest of the federal government to follow suit within 30 days.
The White House already does not allow TikTok on its devices.
“The Biden-Harris Administration has invested heavily in defending our nation’s digital infrastructure and curbing foreign adversaries’ access to Americans’ data,” said Chris DeRusha, the federal chief information security officer. “This guidance is part of the Administration’s ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the American people’s security and privacy.”
The guidance was first reported by Reuters.
Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December as part of a sweeping government funding package. The legislation does allow for TikTok use in certain cases, including for national security, law enforcement and research purposes.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said Monday: “The ban of TikTok on federal devices passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theater.”
House Republicans are expected to move forward Tuesday with a bill that would give Biden the power to ban TikTok nationwide. The legislation, proposed by Rep. Mike McCaul, looks to circumvent the challenges the administration would face in court if it moved forward with sanctions against the social media company.
If passed, the proposal would allow the administration to ban not only TikTok but any software applications that threaten national security. McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal critic of the app, saying it is being used by the Chinese Communist Party to “manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans’ data to be used for their malign activities.”
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your phone,” the Texas Republican said in a statement Monday.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., his counterpart in the Senate, did not shut down the idea of the chamber taking up a proposal that would empower Biden to take action against TikTok, saying it was “certainly something to consider.”
Oberwetter said: “We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won’t have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans.”
TikTok, owned by ByteDance Ltd., remains extremely popular and is used by two-thirds of teens in the U.S. But there is increasing concern that Beijing could obtain control of American user data that the app has obtained.
The company has been dismissive of the ban for federal devices and has noted that it is developing security and data privacy plans as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing national security review.
TikTok banned on all Canadian government mobile devices
Canada also announced Monday that it is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. The European Union’s executive branch said last week it has temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it might be a first step to further action or that it might be it.
“I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones many Canadians from business to private individuals will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices,” Trudeau said.
“I’m always a fan of giving Canadians the information for them to make the right decisions for them,” he added.
The European Union’s executive branch said last week it has temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure.
The EU’s action follows similar moves in the U.S., where more than half of the states and Congress have banned TikTok from official government devices.
Last week, Canada’s federal privacy watchdog and its provincial counterparts in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec announced an investigation to delve into whether the app complies with Canadian privacy legislation.
TikTok is wildly popular with young people, but its Chinese ownership has raised fears that Beijing could use it to collect data on Western users or push pro-China narratives and misinformation. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020
TikTok faces intensifying scrutiny from Europe and America over security and data privacy amid worries that the app could be used to promote pro-Beijing views or sweep up users’ information. It comes as China and the West are locked in a wider tug of war over technology ranging from spy balloons to computer chips.
Canadian Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said the federal government will also block the app from being downloaded on official devices in the future.
Fortier said in statement the Chief Information Officer of Canada determined that it “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.”
The app will be removed from Canadian government issued phones on Tuesday.
“On a mobile device, TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone,” Fortier said.
“While the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised.”