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DOJ’s Lisa Monaco warns against TikTok use, citing security concerns

Nominee to be Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 9, 2021.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

A high-ranking official at the Department of Justice on Thursday warned against the use of the popular short-form video app TikTok, due to security concerns stemming from its ownership by a Chinese company, ByteDance.

“I don’t use TikTok and I would not advise anybody to do so because of these concerns,” said Lisa Monaco, deputy attorney general at the DOJ, speaking at an event on disruptive technologies by nation-states at the Chatham House in London.

Monaco pointed to what she called “the perils of Chinese companies being subject to Chinese national security laws.”

She said the concern extends to any company doing business in China that could be subject to such rules, requiring them to turn over data to the Chinese government for alleged national security purposes.

“There’s a reason we need to be very concerned,” Monaco said.

The DOJ has played a role in evaluating TikTok’s continued operation in the U.S. through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS. That process will determine if the U.S. can reach a risk mitigation agreement with TikTok that can satisfy the national security fears. As of late last year, those discussions were delayed due to ongoing concerns over the app’s ownership, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson said that Project Texas, the name for the company’s efforts to limit access to U.S. user data to a new unit with more distance from ByteDance and with monitoring and cloud hosting by Oracle, keeps U.S. information “out of reach of any foreign government.”

“The swiftest and most thorough way to address national security concerns about TikTok is for CFIUS to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” the spokesperson said.

Monaco said in her prepared remarks that CFIUS has increasingly had an eye toward transactions that can impact data security, cybersecurity and supply chains.

Monaco also announced Thursday the launch of the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, which will bring together law enforcers led by the DOJ and Commerce Department “to strike back against adversaries trying to siphon our best technology.”

“The bottom line is China has been quite clear that they are trying to mold and put forward the use and norms around technologies that advance … and privilege their interests — those interests that are not consistent with our own,” Monaco said during the Q&A portion of the event.

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