South Dakota leads on reining in TikTok threat

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has drawn considerable attention for her executive order banning the Chinese-controlled app TikTok on state government phones and devices in her state. The Republican governor summed up her case for clamping down on the popular app in a Wall Street Journal column.

The first responsibility of government is the security of its people. This is why I recently signed an executive order prohibiting the use of TikTok by South Dakota’s government agencies. As of last week, TikTok can no longer be accessed on state-owned or state-leased devices.

We know that TikTok makes available to the Chinese Communist Party the personal information of its users, which may include internet browsing data, keystrokes and location information. Given that government workers often access the personal information of South Dakotans on their work devices, this presents a serious vulnerability to a hostile foreign power.

But South Dakota has also taken the lead in Washington to reign in the national security threat posed by the Chinese social media platform. Three months prior to Noem’s ban, South Dakota GOP Congressman Dusty Johnson introduced legislation dubbed the “Block the Tok Act.” Forum News notes the bill aims to ban the Chinese app from federal government phones and devices, as well as outlaw U.S. users’ data from being mined in China.

The move was prompted by a Buzzfeed report earlier this year, which indicated that TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, was freely accessing “sensitive user data,” including passwords, keystrokes, browser history and voice and facial recognition.

“According to TikTok’s own employees, ‘everything is seen in China,’” Johnson said. “It might seem trivial to go after an app known for viral dance videos, but TikTok is a national security concern.”

The report’s author, Emily Baker-White, accessed audio recordings from 80 different company meetings, which revealed Americans’ data had been repeatedly accessed from China.

“TikTok has more than one billion users, and China is using Americans’ information to advance its communist agenda,” Johnson said. “It’s no secret [that] China’s goal is to replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower – Americans shouldn’t help China advance its agenda. Block the Tok keeps China’s hands off your personal information.”

The latest flurry of concern over the app so popular with millions of younger Americans vindicates President Donald Trump’s attempt two years in view of the Democratic senator who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. The leftwing outlet Vox put it this way:

Here’s something you rarely hear a Democratic senator say: “Donald Trump was right.”

But that’s what Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) is saying now, and it’s all because of TikTok, the popular video app that Trump tried to ban in the waning months of his presidency.

“As painful as it is for me to say, if Donald Trump was right and we could’ve taken action then, that’d have been a heck of a lot easier than trying to take action in November of 2022,” Warner told Recode. “The sooner we bite the bullet, the better.”

Who knows how long it will take Washington to act on the growing consensus that TikTok poses a national security threat? For now, other states have only South Dakota’s example of acting to protect their citizens’ private data. And Gov. Noem soon plans to take further action to protect against China’s agenda in South Dakota that other states may find of interest.

Similarly Mr. Biden hasn’t tackled the threat posed by China’s purchase of American farmland. I will soon be announcing plans to work with our legislature to address this threat in South Dakota, as well.

Many American intelligence officials believe that the Chinese Communist Party poses the greatest threat to the U.S., and most American people agree. If Mr. Biden won’t take this threat seriously, then Congress and state governments must fill the gap.