EXCLUSIVE: White House sets deadline to remove TikTok from federal devices

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) – The White House on Monday gave government agencies 30 days to ensure federal devices and systems do not contain the Chinese-owned TikTok app.

In an effort to keep US data safe, all federal agencies must remove TikTok from phones and systems and block internet traffic from reaching the agency, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young told the agencies in a guidance note seen by Reuters.

The ban, ordered by Congress late last year, follows similar measures from Canada, the European Union, Taiwan and more than half of the US states.

The device ban — while only affecting a small portion of TikTok’s US user base — adds fuel to calls for a complete ban on the video-sharing app. National security concerns about China have increased in recent weeks after a Chinese balloon headed toward the United States

TikTok, owned by ByteDance, has said the concerns are fueled by misinformation and has denied using the app to spy on Americans. The move will not affect the more than 100 million Americans who use TikTok on private or company-owned devices. TikTok did not immediately comment on the White House memo.

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In December, Congress voted to ban the federal government from using a Chinese-owned video app on government-owned devices and gave the Biden administration 60 days to issue agency orders. It’s the latest move by US lawmakers to crack down on Chinese companies amid national security fears that Beijing may be using Chinese companies to spy on Americans.

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Federal Chief Information Security Officer Chris Terusha said, “This guidance is part of the administration’s ongoing commitment to protecting our digital infrastructure and protecting the security and privacy of the American people.”

Several government agencies, including the White House, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department, had banned TikTok from government devices before the vote.

The TikTok ban does not apply if there are national security, law enforcement or security research activities, but agency leadership must approve these activities, Young noted, adding that “agency-wide exemptions are not permitted.”

On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to vote on a bill that would give President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok from all US devices.

“My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that pose a threat to US national security,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, the committee’s chairman. “Anyone who has downloaded TikTok onto their device has given (the Chinese Communist Party) a backdoor into all of their personal information. It’s a spy balloon on your phone.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says it opposes Congress’ ban on TikTok.

Within 90 days, agencies will have to address the use of TikTok by IT vendors through contracts, and 120 days for agencies to include the new ban on TikTok in all new requests, the White House memo said.

Earlier on Monday, Canada announced it would ban TikTok from government-issued devices, saying it poses an “unacceptable” level of risk to privacy and security, adding to a growing rift between the two countries.

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A TikTok spokesperson said the Canadian ban was issued “without citing any specific security concerns or contacting us with questions.”

The European Union’s two biggest policy-making institutions last week banned TikTok from employees’ phones over cybersecurity concerns.

David Shepherdson reports; Editing by Chris Saunders and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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