Texas governor bans Chinese social media app TikTok on phones issued by state agencies

FILE – This file image shows Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
FILE – This file image shows Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.(Source: KPRC 2 Click2Houston/YouTube)
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 3:05 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered all Texas state agencies to ban the use of TikTok on any government-issued devices as the “threat of the Chinese government gaining access to critical U.S. information and infrastructure continues to grow,” his office said Wednesday.

In letters to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan, and state agency leaders, Abbott highlighted the State of Texas’ responsibility to preserve the safety and cybersecurity of Texans, in addition to the federal government’s responsibility for foreign policy issues.

“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,” said Abbott.

The letter states, “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. Further, 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.”

With more than 85 million users in the United States, the video-sharing mobile application TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that employs Chinese Communist Party members and has a subsidiary partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party, according to the letter.

Governor Abbott directed state agency leaders to immediately ban its officers and employees from downloading or using the social media platoform on any government-issued devices, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and other devices capable of Internet connectivity, which is to be strictly enforced by an agency’s IT department.

The Governor also ordered direct joint action by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for other state agencies that would address vulnerabilities presented by the use of TikTok on personal devices by January 15, 2023.

Each state agency will then have until February 15, 2023, to implement its own policy governing the use of TikTok on personal devices.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Speaker Phelan were told that the Executive Branch stands ready to assist in codifying and implementing any necessary cybersecurity reforms when the 88th Texas Legislature convenes next year, including passing legislation to make permanent the Governor’s directive to state agencies.