Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty: State Government Should Ban TikTok

A Milwaukee-based think tank is weighing in on the Wisconsin state government’s social media policy, urging Governor Tony Evers (D) to ban the video-sharing application’s use by state agencies. 

In a report called “The Mysterious TikTok-ing Noise,” the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) notes that numerous other governors earlier this month signed orders instructing all departments under their control to delete the program from their devices. The piece also observed the unanimous vote taken last week by the U.S. Senate to adopt the same policy for all federal computer hardware. 

Federal lawmakers could soon go even further by banning the platform’s use even by private citizens if they enact legislation sponsored by Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-8) as well as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Policymakers have shown increasing concern regarding the app’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance. Gallagher and his colleagues characterize TikTok as a Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-supported spyware mechanism. 

Writing for WILL, senior research analyst Noah Diekemper focuses his brief on the question of whether government agencies should themselves use the app. He mentions that the Chinese government holds a one-percent stake in ByteDance and that it controls a seat on the company’s board of directors. He cites evidence that at least some individuals and entities are vulnerable to consequential data breaches at the hands of the CCP. 

He points out cybersecurity experts discovered that TikTok scans its downloaders’ contact lists, calendars and image files and utilizes code that can record users’ keystrokes, allowing the collection of their usernames and passwords. Reporting by Forbes magazine referenced in the WILL report has brought to light instances wherein ByteDance directly monitored the whereabouts of journalists and others via TikTok. 

Diekemper suggests that the threat of attack on government computer systems or blackmail of state employees should compel Evers to swiftly bar the program’s presence on any state electronic device. 

“China is a hostile foreign power that controls an app that can access individuals’ most personal and private information — from contacts and calendar appointments to credit card numbers, passwords, and photos,” he concludes. “All of this valuable, personal information is effectively in the hands of the same state actor that already leverages technology in nefarious ways to undermine and best America. Wisconsin is opening itself up to enormous vulnerability at the hands of a merciless enemy by allowing government employees to let this nefarious software live on their phones.” 

Gallagher, along with the rest of the Badger State’s Republican congressional delegation, signed a letter asking Evers to take the action WILL is encouraging. After the organization issued its brief and Forbes came out with its latest piece on ByteDance’s monitoring of the press, he renewed his exhortation and his call for a comprehensive nationwide ban. 

“TikTok has repeatedly told Congress and the American public that it does not share U.S. user data with its Chinese owner ByteDance and specifically claimed it has never targeted individual Americans,” he said in a statement. “But reports… reveal that this was a lie and that ByteDance employees accessed the location data of U.S. journalists who wrote critical stories about TikTok. This is egregious and another reason why the time has come to pass my bipartisan bill to ban this CCP-controlled spyware from the U.S.”

Last week, Evers told members of the press that a move to prohibit TikTok’s use by his agencies is not in the works. He nonetheless admitted to some concern about the platform. 

“It is a small number of people who actually use it,” he said. “That said, we take it seriously.”

Evers’s assertion that few individuals use TikTok may apply to the state government officers in question. In terms of Americans generally, the app has nearly 140 million active users. 

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Wisconsin Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo ‘TikTok” by cottonbro studio.



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