Social Video App TikTok Has Been Banned In These States
The massively popular platform owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, has already been banned on government-owned devices in several U.S. states because of security concerns.
The app has also drawn attention in the federal policy space. On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require TikTok to be removed from all federal devices. On Tuesday, a group of federal lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced a different proposal titled the “ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act” to ban the app generally in the United States.
Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and general counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that states are within their rights to ban technology on their own devices. A wider ban, however, would stifle freedom of speech and censor political activism, he said.
“TikTok’s security, privacy and its relationship with the Chinese government is indeed concerning, but a total ban is not the answer,” Opsahl wrote in an email to Government Technology. “A total ban is not narrowly tailored to the least restrictive means to address the security and privacy concerns, and instead lays a censorial blow against the speech of millions of ordinary Americans.”
Some political leaders, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, have pointed to China’s National Intelligence Law to justify the bans. The law, passed in 2017, requires Chinese companies to cooperate with intelligence investigations.
A spokesperson of TikTok said in a phone interview that the company “categorically denies” sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party, adding that the accusations of cyber risks from governors in recent weeks are “unfounded and politically charged.”
TikTok officials have released statements outlining their data practices, including creating a U.S. Data Security division and routing all U.S. traffic through U.S.-based servers using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. As of July, TikTok still uses data centers in Virginia and Singapore to store user data as a backup, though it expects to delete those backups in a full transition to U.S. cloud services.
“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the bandwagon to enact policies based on unfounded, politically charged falsehoods about TikTok,” said the spokesperson. “It is unfortunate that the many state agencies, offices, and universities on TikTok in those states will no longer be able to use it to build communities and connect with constituents.”
All actions states have taken against TikTok so far have been announced and led by Republicans.
Several states and elected officials still maintain official pages on the app, including governors such as California’s Gavin Newsom and Colorado’s Jared Polis, both Democrats. It is also a popular platform for state universities in several states. The University of Utah, for example, still maintains a verified page on the platform as of Dec. 14. The University of Illinois also maintains an official page, though it’s unverified.
Here is a summary of each state that has taken action against TikTok. This list will be updated as the situation evolves.
On Dec. 15, 2022, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent a memo to state agency heads directing them to ban several apps including TikTok from state-owned devices. The order also bans products from the China-based Tencent Holdings (including WeChat) and Telegram, which was founded by two Russian brothers but is now based in Dubai, according to its company website.
Kemp cited policies at the federal departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security as well as recent comments on TikTok’s cybersecurity risks from FBI Director Chris Wray as inspiration for the new policy.
“The state of Georgia has a responsibility to prevent any attempt to access and infiltrate its secure data and sensitive information by foreign adversaries such as the (Chinese Communist Party),” Kemp wrote in the memo. “The CCP poses an ever present national security threat to the United States.”
On Dec. 14, 2022, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order banning several Chinese apps and services from being used on state-owned devices and networks. The order also bans working with some vendors for state businesses. The companies and products covered by the ban include TikTok, Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, Dahua Technology Company, Alibaba and Tencent Holdings. Tencent operates Tencent QQ, QQ Wallet and the messaging app WeChat.
“New Hampshire is joining the growing list of states that have banned TikTok and other Chinese companies from state government devices and networks,” said Sununu in a press release. “This move will help preserve the safety, security and privacy of the citizens of New Hampshire.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order on Dec. 14, 2022, banning state officials from downloading or using the TikTok app or website on state-issued devices. The order also directs the state’s Office of Information Technology Services to block TikTok from being accessed on any state network.
“The communist Chinese government can use TikTok to collect critical information from our state and federal government, and we are taking this step to protect Idahoans and Americans from the sinister motives of a foreign government that does not share our values and seeks to weaken and manipulate our country,” Little said in a press release. “This new ban to eliminate TikTok from state-issued devices and networks will help protect national security and Idahoans’ data.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum banned TikTok from state-owned devices via executive order on Dec. 13, 2022. The order affects executive branch agencies and employees, barring them from visiting the TikTok website or downloading the app while either on state networks or using a state-issued device.
“Protecting citizens’ data is our top priority, and our IT professionals have determined, in consultation with federal officials, that TikTok raises multiple flags in terms of the amount of data it collects and how that data may be shared with and used by the Chinese government,” Burgum said in a press release.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a directive on Dec. 13, 2022, to the state’s CIO to ban TikTok from state-owned devices and prohibit agencies from maintaining a TikTok account.
“It is clear that TikTok represents a national security risk to our country and I refuse to subject the citizens of Iowa to that risk,” said Reynolds in a press release. “They trust us with their personal and confidential information and we will take every step possible to protect it, including from the Chinese government.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey sent a memo to state agency heads on Dec. 12, 2022, alerting them to a request she made to Secretary of Information Technology Marty Redden to “update his agency’s policies to prevent TikTok from accessing the state IT network and state IT devices.”
In the memo, Ivey said having TikTok installed on state IT infrastructure “creates an unacceptable vulnerability to Chinese infiltration operations.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Dec. 12, 2022, told state employees to not “download or use the TikTok application or visit any TikTok website” via executive order. The order also banned state agencies from maintaining branded TikTok accounts as well as banning state contractors from visiting the platform on state-owned devices.
“China’s access to data collected by TikTok presents a threat to our cybersecurity,” said Cox in a press release. “As a result, we’ve deleted our TikTok account and ordered the same on all state-owned devices. We must protect Utahns and make sure that the people of Utah can trust the state’s security systems.”
The office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has taken steps to block the app from state networks, according to a statement from the office given to WKRN, a Tennessee TV station.
“The state has also taken additional steps to block the access of TikTok on any (personal device) or state-owned device that connects to the state network,” an office spokesperson told the station in a story published Dec. 10.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt banned TikTok on state-owned devices via executive order on Dec. 8, 2022. The order bans executive branch employees from downloading or using TikTok’s app and website on state networks or state-issued Internet-capable devices. It also directs the state to blacklist the platform from state networks and state devices.
“Maintaining the cybersecurity of state government is necessary to continue to serve and protect Oklahoma citizens and we will not participate in helping the Chinese Communist Party gain access to government information,” said Stitt in a press release.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot banned TikTok on state devices through an order to state agency heads on Dec. 7, 2022. Abbot further directed the state’s Department of Public Safety and Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for other state agencies which must address the use of TikTok on personal devices with access to employees’ .gov email accounts and network-based restrictions for TikTok on personal devices while on state property, among other things outlined in a memo sent to agency heads.
“Under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses are required to assist China in intelligence work including data sharing, and TikTok’s algorithm has already censored topics politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, including the Tiananmen Square protests,” wrote Abbot in his letters to state agency heads and legislative leadership.
Indiana Attorney General
On Dec. 7, 2022, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita announced a pair of lawsuits against TikTok. The first alleges that the app used misleading advertising to court children to use the app. The second asserts that TikTok misleadingly portrays its policies surrounding data sharing with the Chinese government.
“The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users,” Rokita said in a press release. “With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law.”
Maryland’s Office of Security Management, headed by Chief Information Security Officer Chip Stewart, issued an emergency cybersecurity directive on Dec. 6, 2022, banning TikTok and several other applications and hardware brands from state networks.
In addition to TikTok, Maryland also banned hardware and software products from Chinese firms. These include Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp., Tencent Holdings (which owns Tencent QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat, among other things) and Alibaba (which owns AliPay). The directive also banned software from the Russian company Kaspersky Lab.
“This action represents a critical step in protecting Maryland state systems from the cybersecurity threats caused by foreign organizations,” said Stewart in a press release at the time.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sent a memo on Dec. 5, 2022, to the state’s Department of Administration head to permanently remove and block TikTok from all devices that are managed by the department.
“Federal law enforcement and national security officials have warned that TikTok poses a clear and present danger to its users, and a growing bipartisan coalition in Congress is pushing to ban access to TikTok in the United States,” wrote McMaster in the letter.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem banned TikTok on state devices via executive order on Nov. 29, 2022. The order bans employees and agencies of the state from downloading or using TikTok’s app or website on any government-owned cellphone, laptop or other Internet-capable device. It also bans contractors from using the platform on state-owned or state-leased devices.
“South Dakota will have no part in the intelligence gathering operations of nations who hate us,” said Noem in a press release. “The Chinese Communist Party uses information that it gathers on TikTok to manipulate the American people, and they gather data off the devices that access the platform.”
South Dakota’s Bureau of Information and Telecommunications reports that it supports more than 4,000 cellphones and cell data cards.
Nebraska’s governor announced a ban on TikTok on state devices on Aug. 12, 2020.
“As an app owned by a company based in China, TikTok is legally obligated to provide data from its users to the country’s communist regime upon request,” said Ricketts in a press release. “To maintain the security of data owned by the state of Nebraska, and to safeguard against the intrusive cyber activities of China’s communist government, we’ve made the decision to ban TikTok on state devices.”
Florida Department of Financial Services
Florida’s Department of Financial Services banned TikTok on department-owned devices on Aug. 11, 2020, via a directive from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
“The threat TikTok presents far outweighs any benefit the application could provide to official business of the agency and that is why I have decided to immediately ban the application from DFS devices and use of the app within our facilities,” said Patronis in a press release at the time.
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