The leader of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency expressed concerns about TikTok and told lawmakers on Thursday that the U.S. needs a policy to prevent foreign powers from using tech platforms to snoop on Americans.
Army Gen. Paul Nakasone told the House Armed Services Committee that he views China-based TikTok as a different type of data security threat than U.S. social media companies.
“If you consider one-third of the adult population receives their news from this app, one-sixth of our children are saying they’re constantly on this app, if you consider that there’s 150 million people every single day that are obviously touching this app, this provides a foreign nation a platform for information operations, a platform for surveillance, and a concern we have with regards to who controls that data,” Gen. Nakasone said at Thursday’s hearing.
U.S. policymakers have said that TikTok’s China-founded parent company ByteDance poses a national security risk because of China’s policy of forcing companies to cooperate with the communist government.
TikTok has sought to restructure its U.S. operations with the intention of shielding American data from China, but U.S. officials have not been persuaded TikTok’s plan will work.
President Biden signed a law last year to remove TikTok from government devices, and his administration issued guidance last month to federal agencies directing them to delete the app.
Mr. Biden has yet to make a public determination about whether to pursue a broader ban of TikTok, as his administration has continued a national security review of the platform started under the Trump administration.
Amid growing support in Congress for fresh restrictions on TikTok, leading Biden administration cyber officials have told Congress they have concerns about the platform.
For example, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly told lawmakers on Tuesday that she supports a total ban of TikTok and raised concerns about how China may use the platform to influence elections.
Gen. Nakasone stopped short of calling for a nationwide ban on Thursday but told lawmakers that the U.S. needs a policy to address other tech platforms enabling surveillance for hostile foreign powers.
“There is going to be other applications like this and we’re going to have to have some type of policy that protects both our ability to, obviously to see materials but also protects us from an adversary’s ability to conduct surveillance and information operations against us,” he said.
Lawmakers are debating several proposals to restrict TikTok’s operations. Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, sought to advance legislation that would impose a nationwide ban of the app on Wednesday evening, but his effort was halted by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter responded to Gen. Nakasone’s concerns by offering the same statement she shared in response to Ms. Easterly’s criticism earlier this week. She said the purpose of TikTok’s Project Texas plan to restructure its American business is to put U.S. data outside the reach of foreign governments.
“We would be glad to hear from government stakeholders about specific concerns they have that aren’t addressed by Project Texas,” Ms. Oberwetter said in a statement.
• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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