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Governor Abbott takes aggressive action against TikTok as cybersecurity threat

Governor Abbott has banned the app on all government-issued devices as a possible security threat to information.

AUSTIN, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott has ordered that the social media app TikTok be banned from all government-issued devices by all Texas state agencies.

Abbott cited his reasoning for the ban as an attempt to preserve the safety and cybersecurity of Texans "as the threat of the Chinese Communist Party gaining access to critical U.S. information and infrastructure continues to grow."

Abbott sent letters to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan and other state leaders stressing the State's responsibility in matters of cybersecurity.

“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices—including when, where, and how they conduct Internet activity—and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” reads one of the letters. “While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data. It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens. Further, under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses are required to assist China in intelligence work including data sharing, and TikTok’s algorithm has already censored topics politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, including the Tiananmen Square protests.”

According to the statement, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that employs members of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as having a subsidiary also partially owned by the CCP.

Governor Abbott directed leaders of state agencies to ban all of their employees from downloading or using TikTok on any government-issued devices.

This includes cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and any other device that is capable of connecting to the internet. This order is to be strictly enforced by the agencies' IT departments.

Abbott also ordered a direct joint action by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a plan to address vulnerabilities presented by using TikTok on personal devices.

This plan is intended to be completed by January 15, 2023. State agencies have until February 15, 2023 to implement their own policies on having TikTok on personal devices.

Governor Abbott stated that the Texas Executive Branch is ready to assist in implementing any cybersecurity reforms that may be necessary in the 88th Texas Legislature, which will convene next year, including making the new ban on TikTok permanent.

Last year, Abbott signed the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act, intended to to fortify physical infrastructure in the state against threats.

Abbott's letters to the legislative leadership can be found here, and those to state agency leaders can be found here.

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