DOJ Investigating TikTok For Spying on Americans and Journalists, Beijing Connections

A new report confirms the Department of Justice is investigating TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company after it admitted to spying on American journalists through the social media app. The investigation has reportedly been ongoing since late 2022. The probe into TikTok comes amid growing bipartisan support for banning the app as lawmakers seek to counter Chinese influence in the United States.

In December, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance admitted to collecting data on its U.S. users, including several journalists. Forbes first reported ByteDance’s use of the app to spy on American citizens in October and later confirmed after an internal investigation at the company. TikTok reportedly fired the employee who oversaw the surveillance program. A spokesperson for ByteDance condemned the spying effort.

“We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us.”

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According to a Friday report from the New York Times, the company is now under investigation by the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Specific details regarding the scope of the investigation are still unknown.

The investigation comes amid a mounting effort by lawmakers to tamp down on Chinese influence in the United States. Several states have enacted bans against TikTok, prohibiting public employees from downloading the app on their phones. Similar bills have advanced in Congress, receiving support from both sides. Senate Intel Chair Mark Warner, D-VA, voiced his support for a ban last week and warned that the social media app had become a grave national security risk,

“Literally 100 million Americans are on TikTok an average of 90 minutes a day. That data is residing in China no matter what TikTok says, and the truth is TikTok can be used as a propaganda mechanism for the Communist Party of China… That, I believe, is a national security concern.”

Tensions have recently flared between Washington and Beijing after a Chinese surveillance balloon violated U.S. airspace in February. While the Trump administration previously pledged to hold ByteDance accountable for its alleged spying, its efforts were thwarted when incoming president Joe Biden reversed an executive order that sought to ban TikTok. The Biden administration has been largely silent on the issue of surveillance through the app.

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However, despite the growing conflict between the two countries, the Biden administration appears to be strengthening its approach. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment officials demanded ByteDance sell its ownership of TikTok or face a total ban in the U.S.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify on Capitol Hill for the first time on March 23. He is expected to sit before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A statement from the committee says the hearing will focus on “consumer privacy and data security practices, the platforms’ impact on kids, and their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.”

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