Jan 27, 2023 - Technology

Exclusive: Senator pushes TikTok government-device ban enforcement

Illustration of an anvil swaying back and forth above the tiktok app icon

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

With a new law that bars TikTok from government employees' work devices kicking in soon, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants details on how it will be enforced.

Driving the news: The TikTok ban, which Congress passed last December, is supposed to be implemented by Feb. 27, but it's not yet clear how the federal government will do so.

  • Hawley, who led the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, passed as part of the year-end omnibus spending bill, wrote on Friday to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the agency responsible for carrying out the law, per a letter seen first by Axios.
  • "This law requires [OMB] to develop standards for executive agencies to remove TikTok and any successor application from government devices within 60 days. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any signs of progress from your agency in developing these standards," Hawley wrote.

Why it matters: Hawley and others in Congress want to ban TikTok from the U.S. entirely. How the government enforces the ban on its own devices will set a precedent for further action.

  • More than a dozen state governments have banned the app on government-issued devices, and universities have been banning it on their Wi-Fi networks as well.
  • TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance and faces criticism and pressure over fears that it will share data with the Chinese government and manipulate content against U.S. interests. The company is seeking approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States for a plan to protect its U.S. users' data.

Details: Hawley wants OMB to provide, by February 5, any guidance it has circulated around the act, a description of how OMB will measure government compliance with the law and any updates OMB has received from intelligence agencies that might inform the way the act is rolled out.

Be smart: The U.S. is far from passing a full-on TikTok ban, but Hawley and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colorado) introduced a bill Wednesday that would prohibit transactions with TikTok company ByteDance.

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says he's considering proposing a bill banning categories of Chinese apps including, but not limited to, TikTok, Axios previously scooped.
  • TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter previously told Axios state bans "do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok."

The big picture: TikTok has recently pursued a campaign to explain its app and how it works to the press, Capitol Hill lawmakers and researchers.

  • Per the New York Times, TikTok executives have been making rounds on Capitol Hill, telling legislators who want to ban the app that it keeps user data safe.
  • And per researchers who were briefed last week in Washington, TikTok is more fully outlining its plan to keep U.S. user data from leaving the country through a comprehensive program managed by Oracle.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to note that Rep. Ken Buck represents Colorado, not Ohio.

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