The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has become the latest government agency to ban its employees from using the China-owned social media platform, TikTok. TSA employees have reportedly used the social media platform for outreach purposes. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to David Pekoske, Administrator of the TSA, asking the agency to stop this use. Sen. Schumer relied on national security concerns over the agency’s use of TikTok, especially after DHS banned the social app.
“The TSA is to be recognized for its work to engage a variety of stakeholders with airline rules and safety, but it also must acknowledge the ironic risk it’s placing its own agency—and potentially the public—in with its continued use of the China-owned TikTok app,” Sen. Schumer said. “Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing national security concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA’s use of the platform to fly.”
“TSA has never published any content to Tik Tok nor has it ever directed viewers to Tik Tok,” a TSA spokesperson said. “A small number of TSA employees have previously used Tik Tok on their personal devices to create videos for use in TSA’s social media outreach, but that practice has since been discontinued.” TSA’s official Twitter account shared some of these TikToks. These videos have ranged from educating on what items may be brought in a carry-on bag, to advertising for TSA PreCheck, its faster screening program.
The use and handling of user data and information by Chinese-owned companies like TikTok have been questioned by numerous government agencies. Sen. Schumer’s letter noted that “national security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information, particularly when viewed in light of laws that compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party…due to a lack of transparency and without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for user data or other actions, that there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request by the government.” A class-action lawsuit was filed over the platform’s sharing and transferring private user data, despite the company’s claims that it does not store personal data. That case remains pending.
ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company announced it was looking to hire a Washington, D.C. based American CEO and director of content moderation policy. This may be an attempt to mitigate concerns about the security of the app and increase presence in the nation’s capital.
The U.S. Army and Navy also banned the use of the social media app on government-owned phones earlier this year, citing security and intelligence concerns.