Abbott bans TikTok from state government devices

Gov. Greg Abbott has directed the state to prohibit the use of TikTok on government-owned devices and called on the Texas Legislature to pass a law restricting its use on public forums.

“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 said in a letter to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

Last week, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray warned of the risks of using the app due to its control by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The popular app allows users to film and share short videos with others. Its user base eclipses one billion monthly, 100 million of which are in the U.S. The app is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company with ties to the CCP. It launched officially in September 2017, and the most popular users are paid millions of dollars for the content they create. The highest-grossing user is actress Addison Rae, who brings in $5 million per year from the app.

“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,” Abbott added. “It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens.”

In a letter to heads of state agencies, Abbott ordered those officials to “ban its officers and employees from downloading or using TikTok on any of its government-issued devices.”

He further directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to devise a plan to address other “potential vulnerabilities” such as the use of TikTok on personal devices also used for state business; network-based restrictions; and a probe for other elements of exposure.

Abbott ordered plans for restricting the use of TikTok within the agencies by February 15.

He then appealed to Patrick and Phelan, saying, “This legislative session, we must pass legislation to safeguard our state against threats like TikTok.”

“This includes passing legislation to make permanent the directive I have issued to state agencies, making similar requirements applicable to local government, and providing a mechanism where we are able to add additional software or hardware to a prohibited list for government use.”

Every legislative session, the governor may issue a list of “emergency items” for the Legislature, allowing the body to take up those specific items before the 30- and 60-day constitutional limitations. The urgency with which Abbott wrote the appeal makes it a prime candidate for an emergency item.

The governors of South Dakota and Maryland have already issued similar directives.

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