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'It might seem trivial:' SD's Johnson targets TikTok with Block the Tok Act, citing national security

“It might seem trivial to go after an app known for viral dance videos, but TikTok is a national security concern," Johnson said.

Dusty Johnson.jpg
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WASHINGTON — South Dakota's lone U.S. Representative is moving to regulate what information a popular social media app can access and outright ban it from government devices through his latest legislative introduction.

On Tuesday, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., introduced the Block the Tok Act, which would prohibit TikTok from accessing Americans' user data from within China while also prohibiting the installation of the app on government devices.

The move was prompted by a Buzzfeed report earlier this year, which indicated that TikTok's Chinese parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, was freely accessing "sensitive user data," including passwords, keystrokes, browser history and voice and facial recognition.

"According to TikTok’s own employees, ‘everything is seen in China,’” Johnson said. “It might seem trivial to go after an app known for viral dance videos, but TikTok is a national security concern."

The report's author, Emily Baker-White, accessed audio recordings from 80 different company meetings, which revealed Americans' data had been repeatedly accessed from China.

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"TikTok has more than one billion users, and China is using Americans’ information to advance its communist agenda," Johnson said. "It’s no secret [that] China’s goal is to replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower – Americans shouldn’t help China advance its agenda. Block the Tok keeps China’s hands off your personal information.”

Beyond simply accessing information, TikTok has circumvented privacy safeguards since 2020 and has paid nearly $100 million in fines for improper data collection, including that of children under the age of 13.

Currently, several government agencies recommend employees do not download TikTok on government devices.

The Block the Tok Act would put safeguards in place to ensure better user privacy, pursue transparency, and protect our national security.

According to Johnson, the bill would:

  • Prohibit TikTok from accessing user data of United States citizens from within China.
  • Direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to initiate an investigation to determine if TikTok has engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
  • Prohibit the installation and use of TikTok at military installations and national security agencies (CIA, NSA, FBI, etc.).
  • Prohibit the installation and use of TikTok on federal government devices.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump banned transactions with ByteDance and led an attempt to ban TikTok from app stores in the United States, citing similar concerns regarding national security.

The company later filed suit against Trump, claiming the ban was in retaliation to TikTok users organizing pranks to be executed at and around Trump rallies in the United States.

In June, President Joe Biden's administration dropped the Trump administration's attempt to install the ban.

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Though Johnson's bill had not yet been entered into the U.S. Congress' official website as of Tuesday afternoon, a copy of the bill was provided by his office.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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