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State Representative Gene Ward plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would ban the wildly popular app TikTok from state-issued devices, part of a national initiative designed to prevent the breach of sensitive information about China.
Ward wants to reduce access to information on cellphones, computers and other devices released in Hawaii that would potentially be accessible to TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, which has ties to the Chinese Communist Party, according to Ward.
“TikTok is required by ByteDance to report to CCP,” Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Any company that has any money or ties to any part of the economy must report to the CPC.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray has raised national security concerns about TikTok, saying China could use the app to collect data about its users that could be used for traditional espionage, the Associated Press reported.
Congress on December 23 approved a ban on TikTok from federal devices, Forbes reported. Other states also banned TikTok on government-issued devices.
“For the sake of the nation, for the sake of not giving information to the Communist Party about how much money I owe on my mortgage, my health, or who I’m related to or not related to, or the surfing I do. on my computer or my phone should be known to people,” Ward said.
Ward estimates that 200 million people may already have their personal information exposed through TikTok, especially younger users who rely heavily on social media.
“I know there’s been some pushback from younger lawmakers,” Ward said. “They don’t see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is the only way to look at it, and that’s national security.”
But Sen. Angus McKelvey (D, West Maui-Maalaea-South Maui) believes a ban on TikTok is unnecessary in Hawaii, as the app is already banned in state governments.
“TikTok is an unauthorized use of government phones,” said McKelvey, chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “Government employees shouldn’t be using TikTok anyway.”
McKelvey believes Ward’s concerns should not be addressed through state legislation, but “better addressed by a letter to the governor’s office director or agency director and/or a resolution calling on state agencies to review the use of TikTok.”
“I would assume, like other government equipment, (government workers) wouldn’t be able to install the TikTok app to begin with,” McKelvey said.
Ryan Ozawa, a technology columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, accused Ward of political posturing.
“I think it’s kind of funny,” said Ozawa, who is also the Pacific news editor for crypto and a Web3 news site called Decrypt. “But I can’t help but notice that there is a reason for concern. I think you have to be careful with any app you use to share information.”
Ozawa uses TikTok, but admits he’s older than TikTok’s target demographic.
“I think if you have a message that you have to get out, you have to go where the people are,” Ozawa said. “For better or worse, a lot of people are on TikTok.”
Ward said in a statement that his “bill would provide Hawaii state government with an additional layer of protection for what is now a huge hole in our digital armor.”
Afterwards, Ward told the Star-Advertiser. “You know, the irony of it all is, if you’re in the government working on their computer and phone, why should you be on TikTok watching people do exotic dances? The point is, you shouldn’t be wasting taxpayers’ money playing TikTok while you’re at work.”
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