Things were a lot simpler when we were fighting the Redcoats nearly two and a half centuries ago. Before he famously rode into history in the midnight hour, alerting Colonial militia of the approach of British troops, Paul Revere arranged for Boston’s North Church to use lanterns in its steeple to signal to colonists which route the British were taking in their invasion—“One if by land, two if by sea.”
Cyberspace, rather than the lands or the waters, is the battleground upon which communist China is waging a subtle, sophisticated long war against the United States and the rest of the free world. Instead of hearing the warning that “the British are coming,” Americans were told earlier this month by the director of the FBI that the Chinese not only had already arrived but had placed their personal information and computer and smartphone capability at risk.
Christopher Wray warned the House Homeland Security Committee that “the Chinese government could use” the China-owned TikTok social media app geared for sharing homemade videos, now a billion users strong and especially favored by teens, “to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.” In 2019, Tiktok became the second-most downloaded app in the United States on Apple’s App Store. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet giant.
After repeatedly assuring lawmakers that it was prioritizing the security of data that TikTok collects, the firm admitted in a June letter (pdf) to members of the U.S. Congress that TikTok “employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data,” albeit subject to the company’s security protocols. TikTok also noted that American users’ information is stored not only in the United States but in Singapore, “the backup data storage location for our U.S. user data,” and that “ByteDance engineers around the world may assist in developing” TikTok algorithms.
Be all that as it may, Beijing has a series of laws in place that give the Chinese Communist Party vast controls over all companies with a presence within its borders, should it wish to exercise those powers. Among them are the Counter Espionage Law of 2014, the National Security Law and the Counter Terrorism Law, both of 2015, the Cybersecurity Law of 2016, the National Intelligence Law of 2017, the Encryption Law of 2019, and the Data Security Law enacted a year ago.
All of these statutes compel businesses operating within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or doing business with a company operating within the PRC, to share data with Chinese authorities on demand. That means unlimited access for the Chinese Communist Party to company records, contracts, intellectual property, a firm’s internally discussed strategies, and its employees’ and customers’ personal data. What’s more, the Counter Espionage Law, the National Intelligence Law, and the Cybersecurity Law actually give Beijing security and intelligence personnel license to invade business facilities in person, peruse records and data, question employees, and seize equipment. The Cybersecurity Law and the Encryption Law empower the government to conduct security audits that require the disclosure of source code.
To persuade businesses to cooperate, the CCP last year launched a national “Corporate Social Credit” rating system to monitor non-compliance. Failing to transfer internal data to the CCP elicits a low score, which will likely lead to punitive measures that include higher taxes, the withholding of permits or licenses, and blacklisting. The European Chamber of Commerce characterized the rating system as being able to cause a company’s demise.
Forbes reported last month that materials it reviewed indicate that ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department, led by Beijing-based executive Song Ye, who reports to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, planned to use TikTok to monitor the personal location of specific American citizens, a charge ByteDance denied.
As FBI director Wray described it, Chinese law requires companies to “do whatever the government wants them to in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government.” And he concluded, “that’s plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned.” In July, he called China the “biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security” and noted that the Beijing regime had interfered in recent U.S. elections.
Both the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the inter-agency authority that investigates whether foreign investments threaten U.S. national security, and the Federal Trade Commission launched investigations of TikTok invading Americans’ privacy, and the Trump administration was on track to banning TikTok unless it was sold to American ownership. CFIUS has been assisted by the FBI.
You seldom find a prominent Democrat in Congress praising Donald Trump, but last month Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia told an Australian media outlet, “This is not something you would normally hear me say, but Donald Trump was right on TikTok years ago … If your country uses Huawei, if your kids are on TikTok … the ability for China to have undue influence is a much greater challenge and a much more immediate threat than any kind of actual, armed conflict.”
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr contends there is no alternative to “anything other than a ban,” telling Axios that there isn’t “a world in which you could come up with sufficient protection on the data that you could have sufficient confidence that it’s not finding its way back into the hands of” the Chinese Communist Party. Carr has written to ask both Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their online app stores.
Meanwhile, with recession taking hold, as Meta begins cutting 11,000 jobs, the new Twitter under Elon Musk eliminates about half its workforce, and Amazon begins major layoffs, TikTok by contrast lists over 4,000 positions in various locations internationally, and has the goal of hiring nearly 1,000 engineers at its Mountain View, California office, CNN reported on Nov. 21.
Democrats in power seem only too happy to help Beijing further its technological infiltration of America. Last year, Forbes revealed that the government of deep blue New York State expended nearly $15 million on Lenovo computers, systems, and IT services, and over $13 million on Lexmark printers and services. Both Chinese government-owned companies are restricted by U.S. military and intelligence agencies after finding that their products could be used for surveillance, espionage, or even sabotage.
As long ago as 2006, the State Department red-flagged Lenovo products and banned their use for the transfer of classified material, such as in networks connecting U.S. embassies and consulates. In 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency and empowered his Secretary of Commerce to block technology transactions associated with Chinese global 5G telecom giant Huawei, which operates in over 170 countries.
As the Trump White House’s 2020 “U.S. Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” stated, “Beijing’s Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy gives the People’s Liberation Army unfettered access into civil entities developing and acquiring advanced technologies, including state-owned and private firms, universities, and research programs.”
For Americans to assist in that acquisition unwittingly via a TikTok app on their phones or the hardware within their Lenovo computers (the company that makes Motorola phones)—posing grave risk to their freedoms—is madness, especially during the week we once again give thanks for those freedoms.
Allowing a hidden technological war to be waged against us must stop immediately.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.