West Virginia lawmaker: Chinese-linked social media platforms a risk to state-owned computers | News, Sports, Jobs
CHARLESTON – A state senator is raising concerns about the data collection of certain popular social media apps with connections to the Chinese government, calling on West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to ban these programs from computers and devices withholding state ownership. In a letter dated Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, asked Justice to issue an executive order restricting the use of TikTok, WeChat or other social media programs operated by ByteDance Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. has been developed, to prohibit. state-owned computers, mobile phones and tablets. TikTok is a social media app that allows users to share short videos. WeChat is a social messaging and phone calling app similar to Facebook Messenger. TikTok was developed by ByteDance, while WeChat was developed by Tencent Holdings. Both companies are headquartered in China. The popularity of TikTok, WeChat and other similar apps has exploded in recent years, with children, teenagers and young adults flocking to the apps. These apps have also attracted the attention of state and local governments looking to reach a younger audience. But as the popularity of these apps has grown, so have concerns about the data these apps collect being used by the Chinese government to steal information or manipulate audiences.
“TikTok and WeChat, as popular as they are in the United States, are owned by Chinese tech companies…,” Well written. “Under Chinese law, the Communist government has the legal authority to compel these companies to provide it with data they already collect or may collect through their apps.”
Republican governors in 12 states — including neighboring Virginia and Maryland — have banned the use of TikTok and WeChat on computers and devices used by public employees, with Virginia banning these social media platforms last week, according to NPR. A bill passed in the US Senate last Wednesday and pending in the US House of Representatives would require TikTok to be removed from the federal government’s computers and devices. Weld, a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, said it makes sense for West Virginia to join its fellow state and federal lawmakers in banning TikTok and WeChat.
“There have always been concerns at the federal level about TikTok and its connections with the government of the People’s Republic of China for several years,” Weld said by phone Monday. “It has recently started to escalate for states to ban TikTok and WeChat due to their ties to the Communist government. I thought that we could finally do it here in West Virginia, now that several other states have done it. CJ Harvey, press secretary for the governor’s office, said the state already blocks TikTok on state-owned networks. The state’s Office of Technology also uses several tools to protect state networks from cyber threats.
“The governor understands and shares Senator Weld’s concerns as they relate to our state’s cybersecurity, and particularly his concerns about foreign influence,” Harvey said, adding that the good news is that there are policies and procedures already in place designed to protect our government networks from cyber threats related to TikTok and related Chinese-owned apps.
“The governor has confidence in his cybersecurity team to protect our state networks from cyber threats and to communicate best practices to cybersecurity teams across other branches of state and local government,” Harvey continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that TikTok is hardly the only threat – there are millions of cyber incidents targeting the state from around the world that are thwarted by our cybersecurity team every year.”
State Auditor JB McCuskey issued a press release Monday banning TikTok from state computers and devices used by the state auditor’s office. McCuskey and Weld also called on county and city governments to end the use of TikTok.
“I am so grateful to be working with Senator Weld on this incredibly important initiative,” McCuskey said. “We have seen the threat China and its government pose to our critical infrastructure and this step is a proactive approach to protect the taxpayers of West Virginia.”
“Auditor McCuskey is absolutely making the right move by banning this app,” Weld said in the joint release. “It has no place on government devices.”
Kent Leonhardt, state agriculture commissioner, said in a statement on Twitter that the Department of Agriculture will also ban TikTok.
“My department is following suit and banning the use of TikTok on WVDA-issued devices. Thank you, Senator, for your leadership,” Leonhardt posted on Twitter. The Department of Agriculture already uses social media on departmental computers and devices, except for communications and marketing staff. The State Treasurer’s office also blocks TikTok and prohibits its use on departmental computers and devices. Jared Hunt, communications director for state Treasurer Riley Moore, said the office prohibits employees’ personal devices from connecting to state computers.
“As a former National Security Advisor to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, Treasurer Moore shares the deep concern about TikTok and other Chinese-based apps and supports these efforts to block their use across all government networks,” Hunt said. Weld said it also makes sense to keep these programs off state devices given West Virginia’s recent economic development announcements. North Carolina-based Nucor is building an electric arc furnace in Mason County to produce steel, Berkshire Hathaway-owned BHE Renewables is building a titanium smelting facility in Jackson County, and Commercial Metals Company just made a $450 million investment in Berkeley County announced for a micro mill to manufacture rebar. West Virginia is also getting into the battery and electric vehicle business. Seattle-based Pure Watercraft has announced it will build an electric pontoon boat manufacturing plant in Brooke County in Beech Bottom. California-based Sparkz announced it will build an electric battery plant in Taylor County near Bridgeport. An as-yet-unnamed company is considering the Weirton area for a battery manufacturing plant. Omnis Sublimation Recovery Technologies plans to build in Wyoming County to extract rare earth minerals – the key ingredients in batteries and other electronic devices – from old coal waste piles. The largest supplier of rare earth minerals to the US and the world is China. If more rare earth minerals can be extracted from former coal mine sites, it could make West Virginia a threat to China’s dominance of the rare earth mineral market and make the state a ripe target for economic espionage.
“It absolutely could happen,” Weld said. “I think that’s why we have to be more diligent than ever about these kinds of things … Cyber attacks are one of the biggest threats we face as a nation to our information, to our infrastructure. The Chinese government plays a major role in that, whether its government entities, military organizations or state-sanctioned third parties.”
Weld said some federal agencies, such as the US Department of Defense and the State Department, already ban the use of TikTok and similar apps. Federal contractors, including Lockheed Martin, also prohibit their employees from using these apps on company devices. McCuskey and Weld are also drafting legislation that would bar countries of concern, such as China, from acquiring property through West Virginia’s property tax sale process. Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]