(The Center Square) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is taking action that he says will protect the cyber security of Texans from the Chinese owned video-sharing company TikTok.
The TikTok app, used by more than 85 million Americans on their smart phones, is owned by ByteDance Ltd., which employs Chinese Communist Party members and its subsidiary is partially owned by the CCP.
Abbott ordered all state agencies on Wednesday to ban the use of TikTok on all government-issued devices due to “the threat of the Chinese Communist Party gaining access to critical U.S. information and infrastructure …”
In letters sent to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the state Senate, and House Speaker Dade Phelan, and to state agency leaders, he said, “The preservation of the safety and security of Texas is foremost among the duties of our offices. The threat of the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate the United States continues to grow. While the federal government holds the ultimate responsibility for foreign policy issues, the State also has the responsibility and opportunity to protect itself.”
The letter comes after the Texas Legislature in the last legislative session unanimously passed the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act to protect critical infrastructure in Texas. It did so after national security concerns were raised about a former Chinese People’s Liberation Army general who bought over 130,000 acres of Texan land within miles of Laughlin Air Force base.
Next year, Abbott says the legislature will also address cybersecurity reforms. He directed Patrick and Phelan to prioritize legislation that will codify the state agency requirements in his directive.
In the meantime, Abbott directed state agencies to take immediate action to protect sensitive information and critical infrastructure from TikTok.
“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices – including when, where, and how they conduct internet activity – and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” Abbott wrote. “While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data.”
“It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens,” Abbott added, pointing out that “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.”
He notes that the FBI recently warned “that the Chinese government can control TikTok’s content algorithm, allowing it to perpetrate influence operations within the United States.” He also points out that federal employees are prohibited from using TikTok on federal-government devices, especially those working at the U.S. departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security.
State agency officers and employees are prohibited from downloading or using TikTok on any government-issued devices, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and other devices capable of Internet connectivity, according to Abbott’s directive. Each state agency’s IT department will enforce how the agency’s technology is used.
He also ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for other state agencies to follow to address vulnerabilities presented by employees using TikTok on their personal devices.
The plan will address the use of personal devices by agency employees or contractors to conduct state business, such as a TikTok-enabled cell phones with remote access to an employee’s [.gov] email account; identifying sensitive locations, meetings, or personnel within an agency that could be exposed to TikTok-enabled personal devices; implementing network-based restrictions to prevent the use of TikTok on any personal device while it is located on agency property; determining if the model plan should incorporate other technology providers besides TikTok, including any apps, services, hardware, or software.
DPS and DIR are expected to present their plan to the governor and state agencies by Jan.y 15. Each state agency will then have until Feb. 15 to implement its own policy governing the use of TikTok on personal devices, the governor’s directive says.