As more politicians and agency leaders sound the alarm on the social media app TikTok over its Chinese ties, states are taking action, with several using executive orders to ban the app on state devices and others issuing directives to state agencies ordering the removal of the app.
The move to protect cyber infrastructure and security in individual states is being carried out solely by Republican governors, despite lawmakers advocating similar action in Democratic-led states.
In the summer of 2020, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) was ahead of his time when he announced a ban on the app on state devices.
“The Chinese government has long engaged in systematic, covert efforts to access sensitive data from U.S. governments, companies, and individuals,” Ricketts said at the time.
“As an app owned by a company based in China,” he continued, “TikTok is legally obligated to provide data from its users to the country’s communist regime upon request. 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.”
Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) brought the fight against the app back to life last week when she issued an executive order banning TikTok on state-owned and state-leased devices.
“South Dakota will have no part in the intelligence gathering operations of nations who hate us,” she said. “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.”
After issuing the order, Noem encouraged other leaders to take similar action. Since, other governors have made similar moves, which she has praised on social media.
Taking the cue from Noem, Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) sent a letter Monday to South Carolina Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams instructing that TikTok is to be “permanently removed” from managed devices.
However, the governor noted that some agencies in the state are “siloed” or not managed by the department. McMaster has encouraged those agencies to partner with the department for the sake of cohesiveness and requested a list from Adams of all of the agencies that remain siloed.
On Tuesday, outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) issued an emergency directive banning the app from state devices.
“We had really serious concerns about grave threats and potential for cyber espionage,” Hogan said on Fox News on Thursday. “We are also the home to NSA and U.S. Cyber Command. We have ongoing discussions between our state leaders with all the federal leaders. Federal government seems to be really slow to act, but there is no question that there are real threats.”
“Our [chief information security officer] made the recommendation that we should immediately take action. Just one or two state employees that were using TikTok on their state devices could have compromised a lot of very important information,” he explained.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) also took action against the app on Wednesday. In a letter to state agency heads, Abbott directed that employees should be forbidden from downloading or using TikTok on state devices.
“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 wrote.
He further requested that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources develop a plan for state agencies to deploy regarding the use of TikTok on personal devices.
On Thursday, Oklahoma joined the group of Republican-led states banning TikTok.
In an executive order, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-OK) wrote, “No executive branch employee or agency of the State of Oklahoma shall download or use the TikTok application or visit the TikTok website on government networks or government-issued devices, including State-issued cellphones, computers, or any other device capable of internet connectivity, and that TikTok shall be blacklisted from State networks and State-managed devices.”
Stitt said the order is meant to protect the state of Oklahoma’s data from the Chinese Communist Party.
A lawmaker in Arkansas, state Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R), filed a bill Monday that would similarly ban the app.
The legislation would “prohibit a public entity from using the Tiktok application or visiting the Tiktok Website on a state-owned device or state leased equipment.”
According to the bill, “the Communist Party of China may obtain access to this personal information obtained through the data collection policies of ByteDance because ByteDance is headquartered in China and Chinese national security laws compel companies operating in China to share their user information data with the Communist Party of China upon request.”
Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) has not taken action on TikTok, nor did he respond to the Washington Examiner’s request for comment, despite being urged to ban the app by members of the state’s congressional delegation.
In a Tuesday letter, signatories Sen. Ron Johnson (R) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R), Scott Fitzgerald (R), Bryan Steil (R), Glenn Grothman (R), and Tom Tiffany (R) requested the governor “ban TikTok from Wisconsin government devices and to lead by example and delete TikTok from your own devices,” calling the social media “nefarious Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spyware.”
They further requested an explanation from the governor if he does not ban the app and delete it from his own devices. However, Evers has yet to provide one.