Privacy and National Security Concerns Over TikTok

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         TikTok is a popular app and social media platform that is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance. [1] Recently, the United States government has expressed growing concern about TikTok regarding privacy and national security. [2] In fact, the White House recently banned TikTok on all federal devices. [3] The U.S. took this action just weeks after the European Union and Canada banned TikTok on government owned phones and devices. [4] Australia has most recently joined in banning Tiktok on federal devices. [5] One of the main concerns of these governments is that China’s broad cybersecurity policy enacted in 2016 which requires companies to submit to heavy regulation and supervision from government officials and potentially turn over sensitive information.[6] China believes that the ban on federal devices is an abuse of state power and opposes the decision. [7]

         A former employee of TikTok has recently come forward as a whistleblower to share concerns. [8] The whistleblower, who was a risk manager, stated that TikTok’s data security issues could leave over 100 million users’ data exposed. [9] Another former employee told Congress that, “a truly leakproof arrangement for Americans’ data would require a ‘complete re-engineering’ of how TikTok is run.” [10] TikTok denies the allegations. [11]

         A bipartisan act to ensure data privacy and security has been introduced. [12] The act is called the RESTRICT act which stands for Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology. [13] The purpose of the act is “[t]o authorize the Secretary of Commerce to review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, and for other purposes.” [14] This bill requires the federal government to recognize and reduce potential dangers from foreign sources to information and communications technology products and services such as social media applications. [15] It also imposes civil and criminal punishments for any violations of the bill. [16] Many senators are calling on TikTok to convert to U.S. ownership and support a ban as long as it is under the “control” of China. [17]

Data privacy and national security are incredibly important concerns of citizens and the government. People want to know that the government is protecting their data and that the security protocols in place are for their benefit. It can be hard to discern if TikTok is a serious and immediate threat, or if these are extreme precautions in light of the Chinese “spy” balloon.[18] The RESTRICT act and other efforts from Congress could be critical in protecting U.S. data leaks and security issues from emerging via TikTok.  

[1] Geoffrey Fowler, Is TikTok really giving your data to China?, The Washington Post (Feb. 3, 2023, 6:00 AM),

[2] Caitlin Yilek, Democrats come around on TikTok ban, reflecting willingness to challenge China, CBS News (March 10, 2023, 1:27 PM),

[3] Matt Murphy, China hits out at US over TikTok ban on federal devices, BBC News (March 1, 2023),

[4] Id.

[5] The Associated Press, Australia bans TikTok from federal government devices, NPR (April 4, 2023),

[6] Jacob Quinn, COMMENT: A Peek Over the Great Firewall: A Breakdown of China’s New Cybersecurity Law, 20 SMU Sci. & Tech. L. Rev. 407 (2017).

[7] Murphy, supra note 3.

[8] Drew Harwell, A former TikTok employee tells Congress the app is lying about Chinese spying, The Washington Post (March 10, 2023, 6:30 AM),

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Press Release, The White House, Statement from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the Introduction of the RESTRICT Act (March 7, 2023).

[13] Id.

[14] S.686 – 118th Congress (2023-2024): RESTRICT Act, S.686, 118th Cong. (2023),

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Yilek, supra note 2.

[18] Sam Cabral, Selfie image shows US pilot flying over Chinese ‘spy balloon’, BBC News (Feb. 22, 2023),