Senator calls for TikTok ban on state devices – WSAZ

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – TikTok, an app used by millions, is likely on your phone, but one state senator says it’s dangerous.
Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, sent a letter Monday to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice asking for an executive order that would ban the downloading and use of the Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat on state devices.
The Senate Majority Whip’s letter comes as at least 16 other states and several federal agencies ban these apps citing security threats.
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“As a former Air Force intelligence officer, I am all too familiar with the significant threats this nation faces from cyberattacks and how sensitive personal and government information is gained through them,” Senator Weld wrote in the letter. “I am also acutely aware of the fact that many of the individuals and organizations behind these types of attacks are located within the People’s Republic of China – acting either in an official government or military capacity, or as state-sanctioned third parties.”
Weld discussed his concerns with WSAZ NewsChannel 3 Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson.
“Is this a real concern, or is this just the boogeyman?” Johnson asked.
“No, I don’t think it’s a boogeyman,” Weld replied. “I think there’s actual, genuine concern here.”
The concern — China.
Specifically, fear that TikTok, a Chinese company would take data from the user’s phone and give it to the Chinese communist government. Weld says that would increase the risk of a cyber attack.
“To enable and allow for these apps to be on government phones, I really think is a not so covert backdoor into the data that may be stored on them,” Weld said.
Justice spokesman C.J. Harvey said the governor shares Weld’s concern as it relates to cybersecurity resiliency and foreign influence.
“The good news is there are policies and procedures already in place which are designed to protect our state networks from cyber threats related to Chinese-owned TikTok and related apps,” Harvey said in a prepared statement. “Josh Spence, our Chief Information Officer, and his team constantly monitor and implement cybersecurity policies and technical controls to mitigate cyber risk, protecting government-owned devices and the network as a whole. TikTok has already been blocked on state networks for many months, and the use of additional security controls further mitigates the risk. The Governor has confidence in his cybersecurity team to protect our state networks from cyber threats and to communicate best practices to cybersecurity teams across other branches of state and local government. It’s important to keep in mind that TikTok is hardly the only threat—there are millions of cyber events targeting the state from all over the world thwarted each year by our cybersecurity team.”
While acknowledging TikTok had been blocked on the state’s computer network, Harvey’s statement stopped short of expressing a decision as it relates to state cell phones.
A TikTok spokesman says the senator’s letter — and policies like it — are “based on unfounded falsehoods… that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States.”
“TikTok is loved by millions of Americans, state agencies, and universities in those states who use the platform to learn, grow their businesses, and connect with their communities,” said TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown. “We will continue to brief state and federal officials on the plans that have been developed under the oversight of our country’s top national security agencies — plans that we are well underway in implementing — to further secure our platform in the United States.”
One of those users — West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair, a self-described consumer of TikTok. The Republican from Berkeley County supports removing TikTok from state devices, but he has no concern about personal use caling the app a go-to source for his love of history and cooking.
“You name it, TikTok provides a lot of that in short burst. To be quite honest with you, I believe that is the future of our education system too,” Blair said of TikTok’s ability string together short bits of information.
As for Senator Weld, he says each person should consider their own data and appetite for risk.
“I think it’s important for people to be cognizant of that fact and make their own decision, but make an informed decision about whether you want something like this to be on your phone,” he said.
In related news, West Virginia Auditor J.B. McCuskey announced Monday afternoon he had banned TikTok for state devices within his office, as well as those that connect to the state’s payment system.
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