- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2020

Republican senators offered legislation Thursday to prohibit all U.S. government employees from downloading or using the TikTok social media application on any government devices.

Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida introduced the No TikTok on Government Devices Act over spying concerns stemming from the app’s ties to China.

“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,” Mr. Hawley said in a statement. “The company even admitted it collects user data while their app is running in the background — including the messages people send, pictures they share, their keystrokes and location data, you name it. 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.

Offered on the heels of the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security each similarly banning TikTok, passage of the proposal would essentially forbid all federal employees — including its co-sponsors and their colleagues on Capitol Hill — from installing the popular video-sharing app on any phone or other device issued by the U.S. government.

“The use of apps like TikTok by federal employees on government devices is a risk to our networks and a threat to our national security, and I’m proud to join Senator Hawley to put an end to it,” Mr. Scott said. “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.”

Launched internationally in late 2017, TikTok has been downloaded to more than 1.65 billion devices as of earlier this year, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower, making it among the most popular mobile apps available.

Security concerns involving TikTok have swelled at the same time, resulting notably in the Pentagon advising all Defense Department employees last year to immediately delete and uninstall the app. Other agencies similarly followed suit. The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have since similarly followed suit.

Reached for comment by The Washington Times, a spokesperson for TikTok criticized the Senate bill while touting efforts to alleviate security concerns sparked by the app.

“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. We also recently announced a transparency center in LA which will give third party experts insight into our source code, and our efforts around data privacy, security and moderation practices,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Times.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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