TikTok app

Senators Ask U.S. Intelligence To Investigate Potential Security Risks of TikTok and Chinese-Owned Companies

Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton sent a letter to the director of national intelligence expressing concerns about ByteDance, which owns the video app TikTok.

Senators are questioning whether the popular video app TikTok, used by millions of mostly young users in the U.S., could pose national security risks to Americans’ personal data.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, teamed up with Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas to send a formal letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire about ByteDance, a Chinese company that owns TikTok. The senators requested that intelligence officers conduct an assessment of how TikTok and other Chinese companies could pose potential security risks to the U.S.

“While the company has stated that TikTok does not operate in China and stores U.S. user data in the U.S., ByteDance is still required to adhere to the laws of China,” the letter reads. “Importantly, security experts have voiced concern that China’s intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Schumer and Cotton requested a Congressional briefing on the intelligence community’s findings. The letter also raises concerns about the potential for censorship or manipulation on TikTok, which allows users to post short videos set against popular music. The app has gained massive popularity over the past few years, with over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone.

In the past, TikTok has been accused of censoring material that are potentially offensive to the Chinese Communist Party, including content pertaining to the Hong Kong protests, Tiananmen Square and treatment of the Uighurs, the Muslim minority that is facing persecution in China.

“The platform is also a potential target of foreign influence campaigns like those carried out during the 2016 election on U.S.-based social media platforms,” the letter reads.

Schumer and Cotton pointed to other actions by the Trump administration, including its decision to add several Chinese firms to the Entity List, preventing U.S. companies from selling to the firms without government permission.

“However, further action is needed, particularly as China continues to shut out U.S.-based technology firms while promoting and expanding the global reach of its own companies,” Cotton and Schumer wrote.

In a statement responding to the letter, TikTok said that it stores all U.S. user data in the United States and backs it up in Singapore.

“Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law," the company said in a statement on Friday. "Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices."

TikTok also said that it does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China and has no plans to operate out of China.

“We look forward to continued engagement on these and other issues to show that TikTok is dedicated to providing a trusted platform for entertainment and creativity,” the statement said.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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