Exclusive: White House sets deadline to purge TikTok from federal entities

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

In an effort to keep US data safe, all federal agencies must eliminate TikTok from phones and systems and prohibit internet traffic from reaching the company, 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 actions by Canada, the European Union, Taiwan and more than half of US states.

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

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

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Congress in December voted to bar federal employees from using the Chinese-owned video app on government-owned devices and gave the Biden administration 60 days to issue agency directives. The vote was the latest action by US lawmakers to crack down on Chinese companies amid national security fears that Beijing could use them to spy on Americans.

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

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

The TikTok ban does not apply if it is national security, law enforcement or security research, but agency leadership must approve those activities, Young’s memo said, and “blanket exemptions that apply to an entire agency are not permitted.”

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

“My bill gives the administration the authority to ban TikTok or other software applications that threaten the national security of the United States,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, the committee’s chairman. “Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given (the Chinese Communist Party) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into their phone.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said it opposes a congressional ban on TikTok.

The White House memo said within 90 days, agencies must address all use of TikTok by IT vendors through contracts, and with 120 days, agencies will include a new ban on TikTok in all new solicitations.

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

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

The EU’s two largest political institutions last week banned TikTok from employees’ phones for cybersecurity reasons.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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