The U.S. House of Representatives has banned TikTok on all House-issued mobile phones as the U.S. government moves towards a ban across all government devices.
NBC News reported late Tuesday that a memo sent by Catherine L. Szpindor, chief administrative officer of the House, also banned TikTok from being downloaded on House-issued devices. The memo states that the decision was due to TikTok being considered a “high risk to users due to a number of security issues.”
“House staff are NOT allowed to download the TikTok app on any House mobile devices,” the memo stated. “If you have the TikTok app on your House mobile device, you will be contacted to remove it.”
In response to the news, a TikTok spokesperson said that the move was a political rather than a practical solution for security concerns. The spokesperson added that there would be a minimal impact because very few House-managed phones have TikTok installed.
Moves to ban TikTok date back to the Trump administration, but came to an abrupt halt after President Biden rescinded executive orders issued by the previous president, including attempts to force TikTok’s owner ByteDance Ltd. to sell its operations. After a lull during the first year of Biden’s term, one dominated by the COVID pandemic, concerns about TikTok and the ability of the Chinese government to tap into the data of millions of Americans, the same concerns raised by the Trump administration, once again returned to the U.S. political arena.
States have been at the forefront of banning TikTok, with Texas joining other states earlier this month in banning the popular app on state government-issued devices due to security concerns.
“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,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at the time. “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.”
The House ban is only the beginning at the federal level. The Senate unanimously passed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act on Dec. 15 and a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by the House of Representatives on Dec. 20 includes a ban on using TikTok on federal government devices.
Although so far the bans only relate to government devices, some politicians are seeking a complete ban of TikTok in the U.S. Florida Senator Macro Rubio introduced bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok on Dec. 13, citing the requirement under Chinese law to make the app’s data available to the Chinese Communist Party as constituting a security risk.
As an alternative to a complete ban, some Biden Administration officials are also pushing for ByteDance to divest the U.S. operations of TikTok. The idea is said to have been discussed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., with representatives from the Pentagon and the Department of Justice reportedly pushing for the sale.