The governors of Wisconsin and North Carolina Thursday signed executive orders banning the use of the Chinese video-sharing application TikTok owned by Bytedance Inc. on government devices due to cybersecurity issues. The states join the federal government, other states and the US Army in their decision.
The order from the Wisconsin governor’s office cited “cybersecurity threats” as well as “digital privacy” to ban the app. The order also banned other Chinese software companies and manufacturers of telecommunication equipment from engaging with the State like ZTE, Tencent Holdings and Huawei Technologies. The order said these vendors were banned based on the “reasonable belief” they may participate in activities such as “collective sensitive citizen, financial and intellectual property,” “cyber espionage against government entities” and “misinformation campaigns.”
Governor Tony Evers said the decision was made after consulting cybersecurity, law enforcement and counterintelligence specialists from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Evers added that protecting digital privacy and his state’s technology and cybersecurity infrastructure would be a “top priority.”
The North Carolina order cited similar reasons to ban Tiktok on state devices along with messaging app WeChat owned by Tencent Holdings. The document stated:
TikTok and WeChat’s software and data collection policies combined with Chinese national security law create a significant risk that the Chinese government will obtain information collected by ByteDance and Tencent or enable malicious activity that threatens North Carolina’s cybersecurity.
Numerous public officials like North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, House Representative Jon Hardister, and Chief Information Officer Jim Weaver supported the decision in a statement. Governor Roy Cooper claimed the order would protect his state from “cyber threats” and “foreign countries that have actively participated in cyberattacks against the United States.”
Both orders cite China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law as justification for banning the applications. The law and its provisions have been interpreted to suggest that Chinese technology companies like ByteDance and Tencent may be compelled to hand over data from foreign countries in the interest of national security. Article 7 of the law reads:
An organization or citizen shall support, assist in and cooperate in national intelligence work in accordance with the law and keep confidential the national intelligence work that it or he knows.The state shall protect the individual or organization that has supported, assisted in or cooperated in national intelligence work.
On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed a law requiring federal agencies to develop guidelines to remove TikTok from government devices. Earlier that month, Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill to ban the app throughout the country. Rubio claimed the app was being used to “manipulate feeds” and “influence elections.”