TikTok bans in the West an abuse of state power, China says

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U.S. government bans on Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok reveal Washington’s own insecurities and are an abuse of state power, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tuesday.

The U.S. government “has been overstretching the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress other countries’ companies,” Mao Ning said at a daily briefing. “How unsure of itself can the U.S., the world’s top superpower, be to fear a young person’s favourite app to such a degree?”

The Biden administration is giving all federal agencies, in guidance issued Monday, 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices. The White House already did not allow TikTok on its devices.

Canada announced it was joining the U.S. in banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices on Monday.

“I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones, many Canadians from business to private individuals will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

WATCH | TikTok disappointed Ottawa didn’t cite specific concerns:

Canada bans TikTok on government-issued devices

As of Feb. 28, the Canadian government is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices, citing security concerns over the app’s links to China.

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said the Chief Information Officer of Canada had determined that TikTok “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.”

“On a mobile device, TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone,” Fortier said.

The app will be removed from Canadian government-issued phones on Tuesday.

The European Union’s executive branch said last week it has temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure.

The Danish parliament on Tuesday, meanwhile, urged lawmakers and employees with the 179-member assembly against having TikTok on work phones. The assembly acted after an assessment from Denmark’s Center for Cyber Security, part of the country’s foreign intelligence service, which had said there was a risk of espionage.

‘Political theatre’: TikTok spokesperson

TikTok has questioned the bans, saying it has not been given an opportunity to answer questions and governments were cutting themselves off from a platform beloved by millions.

The United States Congress passed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act in December as part of a sweeping government funding package. The legislation does allow for TikTok use in certain cases, including for national security, law enforcement and research purposes.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said Monday: “The ban of TikTok on federal devices passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theatre.”

TikTok is used by two-thirds of American teens, but there’s concern in Washington that China could use its legal and regulatory powers to obtain private user data or push influence operations favouring China.

FBI director Chris Wray testified late last year there was even concern Beijing could surreptitiously control devices carrying the app.

“China’s fast-hacking program is the world’s largest, and they have stolen more of Americans’ personal and business data than every other nation combined,” Wray said.

A man in a suit and tie is shown seated behind a paneled table.

House foreign affairs committee chair Michael McCaul says the Republican-controlled chamber is moving forward with TikTok legislation. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

More than half of U.S. states have also banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices in recent months.

Some have also moved to apply the ban to any app or website owned by ByteDance Ltd., the private Chinese company owning TikTok that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.

Washington, Beijing at odds over myriad issues

China has long blocked a long list of foreign social media platforms and messaging apps, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Washington and Beijing are at odds over myriad issues including trade, computer chips and other technology, national security and Taiwan, along with the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. and its shooting down earlier this month.

The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that U.S. user data could be passed on to China’s communist government.

In June 2021, President Joe Biden withdrew his predecessor Donald Trump’s executive orders that sought to ban the downloads and directed the Commerce Department to conduct a review of security concerns posed by the apps.

House Republicans are expected to move forward Tuesday with a bill that would give Biden the power to ban TikTok nationwide. The legislation, proposed by Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, looks to circumvent the challenges the administration would face in court if it moved forward with sanctions against the social media company.

If passed, the proposal would allow the administration to ban not only TikTok but any software applications that threaten national security. McCaul has been a vocal critic of the app, saying it is being used by the Chinese Communist Party to “manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans’ data to be used for their malign activities.”

Democrats control the Senate, and have not shut the door to considering legislation. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez has said a proposal that would empower Biden to take action against TikTok, saying it was “certainly something to consider.”

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