U.S. Intelligence Agencies say that they have no proof that TikTok is a national security threat

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act bill passed the House last week with approval from both sides of the aisle. The vote count was 352-65 in favor of the bill which now heads to the Senate where it faces a tougher time getting through. President Joe Biden already said that should the bill end up on his desk, he will sign it. The proposed legislation will ban apps that require U.S. users to submit a user profile and are under the control of U.S. adversaries such as Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran.

U.S. Intelligence has no proof that TikTok has worked with the Communist Chinese government

As far as TikTok is concerned, the bill would ban the platform in the States unless its owner, Chinese firm ByteDance, divests its holdings in the U.S. unit. The fear is that ByteDance is close to the Communist Chinese government and the personal data it collects on U.S. subscribers to TikTok is sent to a server in Beijing. Despite all of the concerns about TikTok, The Intercept reports that U.S. Intelligence has not been able to procure any evidence that TikTok deals with the Chinese government.
TikTok itself says that it has never shared user data with the Chinese government and would refuse to do so even if asked. TikTok CEO Shou Chew, who testified to Congress almost exactly one year ago, said this past week that as far as TikTok is concerned, “there’s no CCP (Communist Chinese Party) ownership.” Even though U.S. intelligence is fine with going along with lawmakers concerns about TikTok, agencies like the FBI and CIA have yet to find a definitive connection between TikTok and Beijing.

Consider a comment made by CIA Director William Burns to CNN back in 2022. Burns said that it was “troubling to see what the Chinese government could do to manipulate TikTok.” Note that Burns said that he was concerned about what the Chinese government could do with TikTok, not what the government has done.

Also in 2022, FBI Director Christopher Wray made a very similar comment when he said that TikTok’s “parent company is controlled by the Chinese government, and it gives them the potential to leverage the app in ways that I think should concern us.” Like the comment made by Burns, Wray talks about the potential for the Chinese government to use TikTok against the U.S. and doesn’t make it sound as though the FBI has any evidence that such a thing has happened.

Wray said this at another point in 2022, “I would say we do have national security concerns, at least from the FBI’s end, about TikTok. They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm which could be used for foreign influence operations if they so chose.” The word possibility tells us that the Chinese government has yet to use TikTok to obtain data about Americans.

Many countries, including the U.S., use social media to influence and manipulate citizens in other countries

The potential for the CCP to influence U.S. voters in November weighs on some U.S. government officials. On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the highest-ranking intelligence official in the U.S. government, testified to the House Intelligence Committee and was asked if China would use TikTok to try and influence the 2024 U.S. presidential elections. Haines said, “We cannot rule out that the CCP could use it.”

But the truth is that many countries, including the U.S., use social media in an attempt to influence the outcome of foreign elections. Last Monday, in its annual Intelligence Community threat assessment, the report said, “TikTok accounts run by a [People’s Republic of China] propaganda arm reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022.”

Reuters reported this week that when Donald Trump was president, he signed an order authorizing the CIA to use social media to influence and manipulate the public opinion of Chinese citizens. And the U.S. does this sort of thing with other countries and terrorist groups.

None of this matters when TikTok and China are involved as you can tell by the final vote of the proposed legislation in the House. As we said earlier, getting through the Senate is going to be a harder task.

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