Thanks to the 2023 omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law last week, federal employees will now soon be prohibited from using TikTok on government issued devices.
The legislation contains a provision which formalizes the ban on the use of the application. However, the ban will not fully take place for another 60 days. Under the terms of the provision in the spending bill, the Office of Management and Budget has 60 days to formalize the terms and standards for putting the ban in place.
The legislation as written states:
Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Administrator of General Services, the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Defense, and consistent with the information security requirements under subchapter II of chapter 35 of title 44, United States Code, shall develop standards and guidelines for executive agencies requiring the removal of any covered application from information technology.
The only exceptions are for “national security and research exceptions” which include law enforcement activities, security researchers, and “national security interests and activities.”
How the Ban on TikTok for Federal Employees Came About
Republicans had previously tried to slip a ban on TikTok into the 2023 National Defense and Authorization Act (NDAA). That failed, however.
Not long thereafter, legislation banning TikTok for federal employees passed the Senate as a standalone bill. Before it had a chance to progress further, it ended up becoming part of the larger spending bill and passed into law that way. Activity on the Senate bill now states that it was “enacted via other measures,” meaning it was included in the omnibus spending bill.
Why the Concern Over TikTok?
Lawmakers are increasingly concerned about national security with respect to the use of TikTok. They have cited concerns over the app’s ability to track users’ locations and web browsing history, even when visiting unrelated websites.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) wrote in a recent editorial in the Washington Post that TikTok has the ability to influence “which issues Americans learn about, what information they consider accurate, and what conclusions they draw from world events” because of the growing number of people who get their news from such apps.
TikTok’s influence can be seen in online ad spending trends. The Wall Street Journal just reported that TikTok has cut into the dominance of online advertising that has heretofore been enjoyed by Google and Meta. The Journal writes, “Google and Meta each faced headwinds in 2022, as people spent less time online than in the early days of the pandemic; marketers concerned about a possible economic downturn reined in ad spending; Amazon.com Inc. and ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok continued their emergence as a force in digital advertising; and more streaming services started to embrace advertising.”
Rubio said in a statement about TikTok:
The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok. This isn’t about creative videos — this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day. We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.
TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news. It’s also an increasingly powerful media company that’s owned by ByteDance, which ultimately reports to the Chinese Communist Party – America’s foremost adversary. Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up the New York Times, Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War. No country with even a passing interest in its own security would allow this to happen, which is why it’s time to ban TikTok and any other CCP-controlled app before it’s too late.
Nationwide Ban of TikTok Could Be Next
Rubio and Gallagher have introduced legislation that would ban the use of TikTok nationwide.
Rubio’s Senate bill, the Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act) (S. 5245) which would block and prohibit all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern.
Gallagher has introduced companion legislation in the House (H.R. 9508).
Given the fact that other states have introduced their own bans on TikTok and in light of the success of getting it banned for federal employees, it’s not inconceivable that this legislation could gain traction in Congress, particularly in the upcoming session of Congress in which Republicans will control the House.