Georgia, NH latest states to ban TikTok from state computers

ATLANTA – governments. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire on Thursday immediately banned the use of TikTok and popular messaging apps from all computing devices controlled by their state governments, saying the Chinese government could potentially access users’ personal information.

Both Republican governors banned the messaging app WeChat and other apps from the Chinese company Tencent. Sununu went further, banning apps from Chinese company Alibaba, as well as telecom hardware and smartphones from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE.

Kemp also banned Telegram, saying its Russian control poses similar risks.

“The state of Georgia has a responsibility to prevent any attempt to access and infiltrate its secure data and sensitive information by foreign adversaries such as the CCP,” Kemp wrote in a memo, using an acronym for the Chinese Communist Party. “Therefore, it is our duty to take measures to keep our state safe from the CCP, companies controlled by it, and other foreign cyber threats.”

Sununu said the ban “will help protect the safety and privacy of New Hampshire citizens.”

Kemp cited comments by FBI Director Chris Wray earlier this month that China could use the app to collect data about its users that could be used for spy operations.

Sununu instructed government agencies to remove banned software or hardware within 30 days.

Kemp and Sununu are among at least 13 governors taking such action, part of a wave that also includes calls for Congress to ban the programs from federal government computers.

Some agencies acted quickly. Within an hour, the Ministry of Transport of Georgia released a farewell video on TikTok to its 2,834 followers, saying: “Follow us on Instagram, we will stop posting on TikTok!” Thank you all for your engagement.” The department had posted more than 80 videos since October 2021.

Andrew Isenhour, a spokesman for Kemp, said the guidelines, to be issued later Thursday by the Georgia Technology Authority, would include exceptions that would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to access the platforms with special permission.

But the ban would also apply to state colleges and universities, many of which use TikTok to canvass potential new students and to communicate with current students and sports fans. At least 20 Georgian public universities and four-year colleges appear to have TikTok accounts, although some have never posted. Valdosta State University, for example, appears to have eight separate accounts.

Other states that have enacted bans include Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

The US Senate passed legislation banning 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 armed forces have banned the app on military devices.

Critics say they fear the application could give the Chinese government access to critical information and use it to spread misinformation or propaganda.

While there has been much debate as to whether the Chinese government is actively collecting TikTok data, observers say that since the company’s owner, ByteDance, is a Chinese company, TikTok would have to accommodate potential Chinese security and intelligence requests for data disclosure.

ByteDance moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.

TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown told The Associated Press earlier this month that the bans are “largely fueled by misinformation about our company.”

Los Angeles-based TikTok chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas said the company protects the data of all American users and Chinese government officials do not have access to it.

Former President Donald Trump issued blanket 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 a review of security concerns by the Commerce Department. US officials and the company are currently in talks about a possible deal that would address American security concerns.

A researcher from the conservative Heritage Foundation last month urged government officials to ban TikTok from operating entirely in the United States. But some other experts say the threat is overstated and that China takes little advantage of TikTok information that isn’t publicly available.


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Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack in Concord, NH contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 by The Associated Press – All rights reserved.

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