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‘Smoke and Mirrors’: Congressman Unconvinced by TikTok’s Remedial Plan to Stay in US

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the US-Afghanistan relationship following the military withdrawal, on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 18, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Chinese-owned TikTok’s proposal for remaining in the United States is no more than artful deception and hasn’t addressed its link to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to the House Homeland Security Committee chairman.

“The token steps TikTok has taken are all smoke and mirrors, and the risks to Americans’ privacy and data security remain,” Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in a statement to The Epoch Times.

Green was remarking on a letter from the social media company dated May 8, detailing how it plans to address the mounting privacy and national security concerns that stem from the app’s tie to the Chinese regime through its parent company, Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance.

ByteDance is subject to Chinese laws requiring all data to be surrendered to Beijing upon request, which increasingly draws alarm as TikTok grows in popularity.

With 150 million U.S. users as of March, TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms in the country, raising concerns about how it could use the massive user data the app can harvest from the U.S. population.

“TikTok surveils us all, and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, as TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, appeared for the first-ever congressional hearing on his company’s data privacy practices.

‘Fig Leaf’

Lingering questions from that hearing prompted Green to pen a letter to Chew, demanding to know where TikTok developed its source code, whether anyone in China could access it, where updates to the code get written, and if TikTok can promise the source code written in China would contain no “back doors” or give Beijing access to the app’s U.S. server data.

TikTok’s response was that the company has “software engineers throughout the world, including the United States and China.”

“Using a global engineering workforce to write software code is not unusual—indeed, it is the norm for large global technology companies,” TikTok’s vice president in public policy Michael Beckerman told Green, according to a letter shared with The Epoch Times.

Tiktok Ceo Shou Zi Chew Testifies At U S House Hearing TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew (L) talks with his company’s Vice President for Public Policy Michael Beckerman (C) during a break in Chew’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 23, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beckerman assured Green that the lawmaker’s concerns are addressed by Project Texas, a partnership with U.S. software developer Oracle to screen TikTok software and code.

Under the collaboration, Oracle will host all TikTok source code in its cloud infrastructure and inspect the code along with a separate third-party source code inspector to identify potential vulnerabilities, Beckerman said.

“​​Oracle has already begun inspecting TikTok’s source code and will have unprecedented access. To our knowledge, no other social media company, or entertainment platform like TikTok, provides this level of access and transparency.”

The answer was far from satisfactory to Green.

“Project Texas is just a fig leaf for TikTok to remain operational in the United States,” he said. “I have major underlying concerns regarding backdoors in TikTok’s source code that could give the CCP complete access and control.”

Chew, who had served as the chief financial officer for Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and later ByteDance, repeatedly sought to downplay TikTok’s Chinese links during the March hearing, refusing even to acknowledge ByteDance as a Chinese company.

He acknowledged, however, that “there is still some data that we need to delete” from overseas servers, something he said they plan to complete by the end of the year.

A Bipartisan Issue

Concerns over TikTok’s data security have surpassed partisan lines.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned in December 2022 that the Chinese regime is “extraordinary” in how it collects “foreign data,” and then turns it around to “target audiences for information campaigns or for other things, but also to have it for the future so that they can use it for a variety of means that they’re interested in.”

tiktok The TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken on Aug. 22, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a U.S. Senate hearing in March that the Chinese-owned video app “screams” of security concerns.

The same day of the House TikTok hearing, National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told The Epoch Times’ sister media NTD that the United States has “legitimate national security concerns over this particular application, and we’re banning it.”

Kirby noted that the app has been banned on government devices, and that Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign transactions over national security risks, is reviewing the social media platform.

On May 17, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill to impose a complete ban on TikTok, making it the first state to take such a step.

“I wish the bill actually was broader. I would have liked to have picked up other social media apps that [are] owned by foreign adversaries, but this is a good step in the right direction,” he said a day later.

TikTok didn’t respond to a query from The Epoch Times by press time.