China lashes out at US over TikTok ban on federal entities

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China has accused the United States of overreacting after federal employees were ordered to remove the video app TikTok from government-issued phones.

On Monday, the White House gave government agencies 30 days to ensure employees did not have the Chinese-owned app on federal entities.

The order follows similar moves by the EU and Canada in recent weeks.

A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry accused the US of abusing state power to suppress foreign firms.

“We strongly oppose the wrong actions,” spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday. “The US government should respect the principles of market economy and fair competition, stop oppressing the companies and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies in the US.”

“How insecure can the world’s foremost superpower like the US be to fear young people’s favorite app like that?” she added.

Western officials have grown increasingly concerned about the popular video-sharing app – which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance – in recent months.

However, Australia said it had not received any advice from its intelligence agencies recommending it follow the examples of the US, EU and Canada.

TikTok has faced allegations that it is harvesting users’ data and handing it over to the Chinese government, with some intelligence agencies concerned that sensitive information could be exposed when the app is downloaded to government devices.

The company insists it operates no differently to other social media companies and says it would never comply with an order to hand over data.

On Monday, US Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young told agencies they had to scrub the app from all government-issued phones to protect confidential data.

The agency said the guidance marked a “critical step forward in addressing the risks the app presents to sensitive government data”.

Some federal offices — including the White House and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State — have already banned TikTok from their devices.

US Federal Chief Information Security Officer Chris DeRusha said the move underscored the Biden administration’s “ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the security and privacy of the American people”.

Tuesday’s announcement follows the passage of legislation by the US House of Representatives in December that banned the use of TikTok on government-issued phones and gave the White House 60 days to issue agency directives.

And congressional Republicans are expected to pass additional legislation in the coming weeks that would give President Joe Biden the power to ban the app nationally.

“We hope that in addressing national security concerns surrounding TikTok beyond government entities, Congress will explore solutions that will not have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans,” a TikTok spokesperson told the BBC.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were enough security concerns about the app to require the change.

“This may be the first step, this may be the only step we need to take,” he said Monday at a news conference near Toronto.

And the European Parliament also approved a ban on the app on staff phones, following the European Commission’s move last week.

A TikTok spokesperson told the BBC that the bans had been adopted “without deliberation” and amounted to “little more than political theatre”.

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