By BRIAN WITTE, SCOTT BAUER and JAMES POLLARD
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (AP) — Maryland is banning the use of TikTok and certain China and Russia-based platforms in the state’s executive branch of government, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday, citing an unacceptable cybersecurity risk to the state.
The Republican governor announced an emergency cybersecurity directive to prohibit to prohibit the use of the platforms, saying they may be involved in cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information.
Under the directive, state agencies must remove any of these products from state networks. Agencies also are required to implement measures to prevent installation of these products, and put in place network-based restrictions to prevent the use of, or access to, prohibited services.
Wisconsin’s Republican representatives in Congress on Tuesday called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delete the video platform TikTok from all state government devices, calling it a national security threat.
The request comes a week after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, banned state employees and contractors from accessing TikTok on state-owned devices, citing its ties to China. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also a Republican, on Monday banned TikTok from all state government devices.
The issue has gained increasing traction in conservative circles.
A researcher with the conservative Heritage Foundation last month called on government officials to ban TikTok from operating entirely in the United States. And last week, FBI Director Chris Wray said China could use the app to collect data on its users that could be used for traditional espionage operations as part of his growing warnings about the popular video sharing app.
“Wisconsinites expect their governor to be aware of the dangerous national security threats TikTok poses and to protect them from this avenue for CCP intelligence operations,” said the letter signed by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, Tom Tiffany, Glenn Grothman, Bryan Steil and Scott Fitzgerald.
Gallagher last month joined with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, in writing an opinion piece calling for governments to ban TikTok.
Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said the administration takes cybersecurity threats “very seriously” and regularly consults with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and counterintelligence specialists when making decisions about state government devices.
“We will continue to defer to the judgment and advice of law enforcement, cybersecurity, and counterintelligence experts regarding this and other evolving cybersecurity issues,” Cudaback said.
Earlier, on Twitter, Cudaback faulted Republicans for not speaking directly with the governor about their request.
“My favorite part about Wisconsin Republicans’ (tilde)we want to work together(tilde) narrative is when they send a formal, three-page letter that could’ve been a phone call just so they leak to press and get stories like this,” she said in reference to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story, which first reported on the letter. “In the spirit of bipartisanship, of course!”
Evers does not maintain a personal or official TikTok account. His campaign used one, but per state law that was not maintained using any government device.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by Republicans who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location. U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices.
TikTok, which has exploded in popularity with a nearly addictive scroll of videos, has also struggled to detect ads that contain blatant misinformation about U.S. elections, according to a recent report from nonprofit Global Witness and the Cybersecurity for Democracy team at New York University.
TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas, based in Los Angeles, has said the company protects all data of American users and that Chinese government officials have no access to it.
Former President Donald Trump issued blanket-style orders against Chinese tech companies, but the White House under President Joe Biden has replaced them with a narrower approach. U.S. officials and the company are now in talks over a possible agreement that would resolve American security concerns.