President Joe Biden approved a limited TikTok ban on Thursday when he signed the 4126 page expense invoice into law The ban prohibits the use of TikTok by the federal government almost 4 million employees on devices owned by their agencies, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security, and security investigative purposes.
The ban comes after a wave of action against the viral video app in recent weeks amid growing security concerns raised by media reports, China hawks and politicians. Given the increasing scrutiny of TikTok, owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, it could be just the beginning of the challenges ahead for the app.
The renewed pressure on the app under the Biden administration comes two years after a proposed ban by then-President Donald Trump was halted. Court.
Since 2020, a bubbly movement led largely by conservatives has maintained minor interest in banning TikTok.
TikTok added fuel to the criticism in December when it confirmed to Forbes that its employees incorrectly tracked locations of three of the magazine’s journalists, using methods that Forbes claimed amounted to espionage. One ByteDance executive resigned and another was fired, Forbes reported on December 22.
Insiders said the incident contributed to growing skepticism towards the app, spurring further bans in US states and at universities.
Megan Stifel, a former Justice Department homeland security official, said the incident will make it harder for TikTok to show that it manages data responsibly. TikTok and the Biden administration, including the Department of Justice, they have been locked in negotiations about a proposed security deal that would put the company on a more stable footing.
“It certainly gives the Justice Department an added edge to say, ‘Look, the record is not positive,’” said Stifel, now director of strategy at the Institute for Security and Technology, a think tank.
TikTok denounced the new ban on its app for federal agencies on Friday.
“We are disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices, a political gesture that will do nothing to further national security interests, instead encouraging the Administration to conclude its national security review,” the statement said. company in a statement.
He added that the proposed security agreement with the Biden administration would address the security concerns of lawmakers and regulators.
“These plans have been developed under the supervision of our country’s leading national security agencies, plans that we are well advanced in implementing, to further secure our platform in the United States, and we will continue to inform lawmakers about them,” said TikTok.
Under pressure from lawmakers and regulators, the company in early December reshuffled its staff to create a new US-based team for reasons of trust and security. The purpose was to “build more confidence in US user data protection and compliance,” she said in a statement. blog post.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
TikTok has been the subject of numerous government and institutional bans in the past month. The Chamber banned him on Monday from any work mobile phone. At the state level, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, banned it. on state phones and computers, as did a dozen other Republican-led states, including Alabama, Georgia and Virginia.
And some of the state bans apply not only to state government employees, but also to students and anyone else using Wi-Fi on campus at state schools like the University of Oklahoma and Auburn University in Alabama, part of TikTok’s core user base in the US
The wave of bans could be just the beginning of the challenges TikTok could face next year, according to national security analysts and tech policy advocates. An actual ban on the app in the US for all citizens may still be unlikely and ultimately unfeasible, but critics of the app promise a fight nonetheless.
In early December, the top House Republicans, including some likely to head House committees next year, wrote to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew demanding a meeting, citing a previous Forbes research about how the app handles reports of child sexual exploitation.
It is not clear if the meeting has taken place. A spokesman for the group of Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment and TikTok did not respond to a question about the demand for the meeting.
The congressional hearings would serve several purposes, said Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute, a technology and telecommunications advocacy group. He said the hearings would raise public awareness, obtain witnesses and create the basis for possible future legislation.
“If you were playing around with this, you would want as much on the record as possible to justify tough action like banning a company from our markets,” he said. He has written in support of the restrictions on TikTok.
But, he added, the end result is far from clear, with less appetite in the Senate for anything close to a ban on foreign software. He said he hopes to see legislation from the Republicans that would require an agency like the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission to step up their privacy reviews of TikTok.
“How far are you willing to go, other than ban it from government devices?” he said. “President Biden is more inclined to want to keep TikTok on the market.”
Biden hasn’t spoken in detail about what should happen to TikTok, but he has repeatedly courted the app’s stars and the millions of people who follow them. In October, he it’s been more than an hour at the White House with eight TikTok influencers for a voter turnout effort ahead of the midterm elections, The Washington Post reported.
On the House side, there is no shortage of incoming committee chairs who want to take on TikTok. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has said he plans to create a select committee on China. led by a former Navy counterintelligence officerRepublican Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.
«We are not ready to release details about the hearings, but the threat posed by TikTok is certainly an issue the committee will investigate,» Gallagher’s office said in a statement to NBC News.
Gallagher has sponsored a bill to ban TikTok from operating in the US, and in a declaration this month on the surveillance of Forbes journalists, called TikTok “CCP-controlled spyware,” referring to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Stifel, the former Justice Department official, said the kinds of bans that have been extended to government employees may not be as effective as TikTok’s critics hope. TikTok is available through a web browser, for example.
«The ability to really isolate it is, at the end of the day, probably pretty remote,» he said. “We can ban it on government devices. Companies can decide to ban it. But there are always solutions.»
Some of the anti-TikTok energy in Congress may be channeled into broader legislation. There has been a years-long effort to write a comprehensive nationwide data security law that covers Americans’ data held not only by foreign companies, but also by American tech giants.
“Today we don’t have a credible public approach to data privacy in the United States,” said Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, a grant-making organization that focuses on the social impact of technology.
“That means the American people interact every day with potential threats to their privacy and we don’t have a regulatory system to respond to that,” he said.