U.S. federal agencies must clear their devices of the TikTok video app within 30 days, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered on Monday (February 27).
Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok has been targeted by US lawmakers who consider the application a threat to national security, and had banned its use on civil servants’ devices in a law passed in late December. The OMB’s order is taken pursuant to this law, ratified in early January by President Joe Biden.
In a memorandum, the director of this office, Shalanda Young, called on government agencies to “remove and prohibit installations” of the application on devices owned or managed by them, and to “prohibit Internet traffic from these devices to the app.
Fear that Beijing could access user data
The ban does not apply to non-federal US entities or the millions of individuals who use TikTok. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) deplored the new law, saying it amounted to “effectively banning TikTok”.
“Congress must not censor entire platforms and deprive Americans of their constitutional right to free speech and expression,” Jenna Leventoff, senior policy adviser for the ACLU, said in a statement. “We have the right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas and opinions with people across the country and around the world,” she added.
The ultra-popular platform of short and viral videos is increasingly scrutinized by Westerners who fear that Beijing could thus access the data of users around the world.
Similar decision of the European Commission
The ban in the US federal government comes days after a similar decision by the European Commission, which banned TikTok from its staff to “protect” the institution.
The Government of Canada also announced Monday that it will ban TikTok from the mobile devices it provides to its staff starting Tuesday, citing “an unacceptable level of risk” to privacy and security. TikTok has already been among the Chinese apps banned in India since 2020.
With more than a billion active users worldwide, TikTok is the sixth most used social platform, according to We Are Social’s latest digital evolution report, published in January. TikTok acknowledged in November that some employees in China could access European user data, and admitted in December that employees had used that data to stalk journalists. But the group denies any Chinese government control or access to its data.
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