A popular social networking application has the potential to pilfer personal information from individual phones and contribute to large databases that pose a threat to security in the United States.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley made this claim Wednesday about TikTok, a Chinese-based video-sharing app. The Republican announced at a Capitol Hill hearing his introduction of a bill to ban the use of the application by employees using federal government devices.
“This is a necessary step to protect the security of the United States and the data security of every American,” he said.
Hawley chaired a hearing on the subject by the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. A member of the Judiciary Committee, the Missourian called big technology companies and the Beijing government “dangerous partners” in the gathering and storing of personal information.
“TikTok on our phones, it tracks what we do on our phones, the messages we send, our keystrokes, our search history,” Hawley said in a Wednesday interview with News-Press NOW. “It’s unbelievable. All of that is getting shared potentially with the Chinese Communist Party.”
He asked witnesses why TikTok, and by extension the Beijing government, would want such information.
“The ability in large data sets, from a cyber perspective, is with modern technology and (artificial intelligence), the ability to data-mine through that data,” said Clyde Wallace, deputy assistant director of the FBI Cyber Division. “It produces vulnerabilities for U.S. citizens and companies, proprietary information for our corporations.”
Bryan Ware, Homeland Security assistant director for cybersecurity, added, “There are a lot of advantages to an adversary. Consumers trade that information pretty freely for entertainment or for convenience. I wish we were all more aware of what we were giving up when we did that.”
Hawley said at the hearing that Chinese officials had a role in the Equifax data breach of 2017, a hack that exposed the personal financial information of 148 million people. As a policy, China requires companies doing business in that nation to share data.
The Missouri senator said the Defense, State and Homeland Security departments, as well as the Transportation Security Administration, already have banned all employees from using TikTok on government devices. His legislation would mandate that on a broader level.
Ware said the measure makes sense.
“It’s primarily an entertainment platform. It’s probably not necessary on a government device,” the Homeland Security official said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, urged the United States to push for an international “coalition of the willing” to establish norms regarding cyber-crimes, state-supported hacking and intellectual property theft.
“We can not let the bad actors frustrate our efforts to reach consensus with our allies about permissible state behavior in cyberspace any more than we would allow the burglars to advise us on defending our home security measures,” he said.
Representatives of TikTok and Apple were invited to the hearing, but they declined.