The US and Canadian governments have ramped up efforts to get TikTok – China’s ‘fun’ app with a dark side, that we warned about nearly three years ago – off government phones and devices.
US agencies were given 30 days by the White House on Monday to ensure that phones and devices provided to federal employees do not have the Chinese-owned app on them.
Canada’s federal government also said on Monday that the social media app must be removed from on all government mobile devices from Tuesday (February 28).
It said TikTok is an “unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security” and that the Chinese tech giant’s data collection methods create vulnerabilities to cyber attacks.
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Spy balloon heightens security concerns
In a bid to keep US data safe, all federal agencies must eliminate TikTok from phones and systems and prohibit internet traffic from reaching the company, Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young told agencies in a memo.
The ban, ordered by Congress late last year, follows similar action by Canada, the European Union, Taiwan and more than half of all US states.
The device ban — while impacting a tiny portion of TikTok’s US user base — adds fuel to calls for an outright ban on the video-sharing app. National security concerns about China have surged in recent weeks after a Chinese balloon drifted over the US.
ByteDance-owned TikTok claims concerns are fuelled by misinformation and has denied using the app to spy on Americans.
But the action does not affect the more than 100 million Americans who use TikTok on private or company-owned devices. TikTok did not immediately comment on the White House memo.
Congress in December voted to bar federal employees from using the Chinese-owned video app on government-owned devices and gave the Biden administration 60 days to issue agency directives. The vote was the latest action by US lawmakers to crack down on Chinese companies amid national security fears that Beijing could use them to spy on Americans.
Federal chief information security officer Chris DeRusha said: “This guidance is part of the Administration’s ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the American people’s security and privacy.”
Many government agencies including the White House, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department had banned TikTok from government devices before the vote.
The TikTok ban does not apply if there are national security, law enforcement or security research activities but agency leadership must approve these activities, Young’s memo said and “blanket exceptions applying to an entire agency are not permitted.”
On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to vote on a bill that would give President Joe Biden the authority to ban TikTok from all US devices.
“My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten US national security,” Representative Mike McCaul, the committee chair, said.
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the (Chinese Communist Party) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your their phone.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said it opposed a congressional ban on TikTok.
The White House memo said within 90 days, agencies must address any use of TikTok by IT vendors through contracts and with 120 days agencies will include a new prohibition on TikTok in all new solicitations.
Meanwhile, the Canadian ban was issued “without citing any specific security concern or contacting us with questions,” a TikTok spokesperson said.
The European Union’s two biggest policy-making institutions last week banned TikTok from staff phones for cybersecurity reasons.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters
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