‘It’s a security risk’: US senator wants TikTok ban on federal workers

WASHINGTON: Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Wednesday said he will introduce legislation banning federal employees from using social media app TikTok on their devices and accused the company of sharing data with the Chinese government.

Hawley said the proposed ban would apply to government-issued devices and his comments added to growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology transfers.

“TikTok is scooping up immense amounts of data and they are sharing it with Beijing; they are required to,” Hawley told reporters after a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on big tech’s connections to China.

“For federal employees it really is a no-brainer. It’s a major security risk … do we really want Beijing having geo-location data of all federal employees? Do we really want them having their keystrokes,” he told reporters.

Already, several US agencies that deal with national security and intelligence issues have banned employees from using the app, which has been rapidly growing in popularity among US teenagers and allows users to create short videos.

About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said last year.

In November, the US government launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s US$1 billion acquisition of US social media app Musical.ly.

Hawley’s plan demonstrates broader concerns among lawmakers about collection and sharing of data on US users with the Chinese government.

Many lawmakers are generally sceptical of China and see it as a threat to free speech and online privacy and security.

TikTok has previously said US user data is stored in the United States and that China does not have jurisdiction over content of the app, which does not operate in China and is not influenced by any foreign government.

The senator, however, noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws.