Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Arkansas bars workers from using TikTok app on state-owned devices and computers

by Stephen Simpson | December 17, 2022 at 9:14 a.m.
Jonathan Askins (from left), director of the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services' Division of Information Systems; state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch; and state Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark, are shown at the state Capitol in Little Rock in these file photos taken in 2021 and 2022. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; center, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

Arkansas has joined other states in banning the use of the social media app TikTok on state-owned devices and computers as two Republican legislators filed legislation to put the prohibition into law.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday tweeted out a Dec. 8 memo issued by Jonathan Askins, the state's chief technology officer, informing state employees that TikTok is prohibited on state devices and for it to not be used on any devices connected to the state network unless it's for an authorized law enforcement or security purpose.

"TikTok's data collection practices create a national security risk, and we will continue to ensure our state's data remains secure," Hutchinson said in a post on Twitter, a social media application.

In his memo, Askins, director of the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services Division of Information Systems, wrote that the FBI has called TikTok "a risk to national security."

"On December 2, 2022, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned citizens about the usage of TikTok. TikTok's privacy and data collection policies allow for the capture of sensitive, personally identifiable information and that data is stored in locations that could be accessed by the Government of the People's Republic of China for use other than permissions given by the user," Askins wrote. "We value the privacy of our employees and citizens and have determined we should follow the advice given by the Department of Homeland Security."

[DOCUMENT: Read the ban on TikTok usage on state devices »]

TikTok, which has more than 100 million users in the United States, is owned by Chinese based company ByteDance and has become a popular social media platform among young people.

Jamal Brown, a spokesman for TikTok, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the company stands ready to implement the solutions developed under the oversight of top national security agencies to further secure the platform here in the United States.

"Millions of Americans rely on TikTok to grow their small businesses, reach new audiences, and make their livelihoods," he wrote in an email. "So it is disappointing that states and some federal officials are promoting falsehoods to ban the platform instead of advancing sound policies to promote U.S. national security interests."

Meanwhile, state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, and state Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark, filed a bill earlier this month that would prohibit a public entity from using the TikTok application or visiting the website on state-owned devices or state-leased equipment.

Earlier this week, Stubblefield said he was inspired to look into TikTok three years ago when former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at a governors conference warning about the dangers of data-gathering being done on the application.

"He said any company in China is obligated to turn any data information to the Chinese government and I looked it up and started studying it and it turned out to be true," he said. "This is not just a national security risk, but it also poses a risk to our children. Millions have downloaded this app and it has facial recognition features, location features and a lot of other powerful A.I. tools on it."

Stubblefield said he couldn't point out specific instances when it comes to state employees using TikTok, but the odds are too great that it's on their phones.

"I am sure that state employees have downloaded the application because it's available and there is nothing keeping them from downloading it," he said. "A billion people downloaded this app over this year. That is one-eighth of the population of the world."

Berry called TikTok the perfect "Trojan Horse" to gather data.

"Tik Tok is nothing more than a strategic intelligence gathering mechanism, your modern-day spy, owned by the Peoples Republic of China," he said in an email on Wednesday. "As a former senior military officer of 45 years, I see [TikTok] as a threat to our national security. It is a vacuum cleaner to suck up passwords, data and information security related items from American platforms."

Berry said those who have TikTok run the risk of being exploited without knowing it.

"If you have [TikTok] on a computer or communication device in your home then you are allowing the Chinese intelligence operatives into your children's bedrooms and a seat at your dinner table," he said. "...and we should do everything we can to delete [TikToks] existence in our state and nation."

State Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday that to his knowledge, the Democratic Party of Arkansas has not taken an official stance on the TikTok bill, but personally he wanted to see more information.

"I want to know more about the potential security threat and if we have seen one," he said. "Have we already seen an attempt by TikTok on any of this? Because I only know of one agency that has an account and don't know that it's active."

Leding said he is hesistant to ban TikTok because it's so popular among young people.

"It's where young people get their news and information and no matter how we feel about it I would hate to shut that off," he said. "Is this really a genuine concern or something that got hyped up and people are jumping on it prematurely?"

Leding said he believes a state agency might be able to use TikTok one day to reach a younger generation and thinks outright banning might be a mistake.

"I really think that one of our agencies could put that platform to great use for Arkansans who might never hear from the state government because they aren't reading the newspaper or visiting state websites," he said.

The proposed bill would align Arkansas with several other states who have announced their intention to ban the popular video application from state employees' phones.

Earlier this month, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued an executive order banning the app from state-owned devices joining South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who issued a similar ban.

Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, and Tennessee are also states that have announced bans on TikTok this month.

Neighboring states have also taken measures to address the social media app with Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordering all state agencies not to use TikTok and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issuing an executive order banning the application from state issued devices.

Stubblefield said when he created this bill he didn't know other states were also in the process of banning TikTok, but he is glad that it's happening.

"In a time where we are trying to improve our cyber security, it looks to me that we are going the opposite direction when we allow apps like this," he said.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday also passed a bill that would ban federal employees from downloading TikTok on government devices.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. , citing the FBI and Federal Communictions Commission's concern about the social media platform being used to spy on Americans.

"TikTok is digital fentanyl that's addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news. It's also an increasingly powerful media company that's owned by ByteDance, which ultimately reports to the Chinese Communist Party – America's foremost adversary," Gallagher said in a news release. "Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up the New York Times, Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War. The bill will still need to pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden before it goes into effect."

The bill currently seems to have bipartisan support as it was passed by unanimous consent.

The U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app from being installed and used on military devices.

"It is a risk that most governments are starting to realize it's not worth taking," Trenchcoat Advisors co-founder Holden Triplett, a former FBI government official who worked in Beijing and counterintelligence, told the Associated Press.

Print Headline: Arkansas bans TikTok on state-owned devices


Sponsor Content