Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire on Thursday immediately banned the use of TikTok and the popular messaging app from all computer devices controlled by their state governments, saying the Chinese government could access users’ personal data.
Both Republican governors have banned the messaging app WeChat and other apps owned by Chinese company Tencent. Sununu went further, banning apps owned by Chinese company Alibaba, as well as telecommunications equipment and smartphones made by Chinese companies, including Huawei and ZTE.
Kemp also banned Telegram, saying its Russian control posed similar risks.
“The State of Georgia has a responsibility to prevent any attempt by foreign adversaries to access and infiltrate its secure data and sensitive information,” Kemp wrote in the memo, using an acronym for the Chinese Communist Party. “As such, it is our duty to take measures to protect the safety and security of our state against the CCP, its controlled entities, and other foreign cyberthreats.”
Sununu said the ban “will help preserve the safety, security and privacy of New Hampshire citizens.”
Kemp cited FBI Director Chris Wray’s comments earlier this month that China could use the app to collect data about its users that could be used for espionage.
Sununu has ordered government agencies to remove any prohibited software or hardware within 30 days.
Kemp and Sununu are among at least 14 governors taking such action, part of a wave that includes calls to Congress to ban the software from federal government computers.
Some agencies took quick action. Within an hour, the Georgia Department of Transportation posted a farewell video to its 2,834 followers on TikTok, saying: Thank you all for the engagement.” Since October 2021, the department has posted more than 80 videos.
Camp spokesman Andrew Isenhour said the guidelines to be issued by the Georgia Technology Authority later Thursday would include exemptions that would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to access the platforms with special permission.
The ban will not apply to Georgia’s public universities, Isenhour said. Many of them use TikTok to attract potential new students and interact with current students and sports fans.
Other states that have imposed bans include Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.
The US Senate passed a bill to ban TikTok in 2020, but it never passed the House of Representatives. Other bills to regulate or ban TikTok and other apps are also pending in Congress. The US military has banned the app from military devices.
Critics say they fear the Chinese government is gaining access to sensitive information through the app and could use it to spread disinformation or propaganda.
While there has been much debate about whether the Chinese government actively collects TikTok’s data, observers say TikTok must comply with any potential Chinese security and intelligence requests to hand over data because the company’s owner, ByteDance is a Chinese company.
ByteDance moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.
TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown told The Associated Press earlier this month that the bans were “fueled in large part by misinformation about our company.”
TikTok’s chief operating officer, Vanessa Pappas, who is based in Los Angeles, said the company protects all US user data and that Chinese government officials do not have access to it.
Former President Donald Trump issued sweeping orders against Chinese tech companies that tried to block new users from downloading WeChat and TikTok in 2020, but lost in court. President Joe Biden has taken a narrower approach, ordering the Commerce Department to review security concerns. US officials and the company are now negotiating a possible deal that would address American security concerns.
Last month, a researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation called on government officials to ban TikTok entirely from operating in the United States. But some other experts say the threat is overstated and that China stands to gain little from TikTok’s information, which is not publicly available.
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