Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin both signaled that President Trump was close to taking action against Chinese-owned TikTok, as the duo warned about the threat posed by the video-sharing social network app.
Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Friday that “as far as TikTok is the considered, we’re banning them from the United States. … Well, I have that authority. I can do it with an executive order or that [emergency economic powers].”
Mnuchin, who is the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment In the United States, which opened a national security review into TikTok In late 2019, shed new light on that investigation In an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“I will say publicly that the entire committee agrees that TikTok cannot stay In the current format, because it risks sending back information on a hundred million Americans,” Mnuchin said.
The Treasury secretary also said he’d spoken with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and “we all agree there needs to be a change.” He said that “the president can either force a sale, or he can block the app” using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and added that “everybody agrees it can’t exist as it currently does.”
TikTok is the owned by the Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, which is the based In Beijing. ByteDance bought Musical.ly, a similar video app, for almost $1 billion back In 2017, and Musical.ly and TikTok merged In 2018.
ByteDance and TikTok have repeatedly claimed that they have not and would never turn over TikTok user data to the Chinese government, but national security experts point to China’s own 2017 National Intelligence Law, which requires all Chinese companies to assist Chinese intelligence services when asked — and to keep it secret.
Pompeo spoke with Mario Bartiromo of Sunday Morning Futures on Fox News and said that Trump was concerned about the threat posed by Chinese software inside the United States, “and so he will take action In the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Here’s what I hope the American people will come to recognize. These Chinese software companies doing business In the United States — whether it’s TikTok or We Chat — there are countless more … are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus,” Pompeo said.
“It could be their facial recognition pattern, it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they’re connected to,” he added. “Those are the issues that President Trump has made clear we’re going to take care of. These are true national security issues. They’re true privacy issues for the American people. And for a long time, the United States just said, ‘Well, goodness, if we’re having fun with it or if a company can make money off of it, we’re going to permit that to happen.’ President Trump has said, ‘Enough’ — and we’re going to fix it.”
The secretary of state also said that “we’re closing In on a solution, and I think you’ll see the president’s announcement shortly.”
Pompeo told Fox News earlier In July that the Trump administration was looking at banning TikTok, comparing it to Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE.
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida introduced a bill In March that would ban anyone from using TikTok on any government devices. Schumer and Cotton wrote to the then-director of National Intelligence “to express our concerns about TikTok … and the national security risks posed by its growing use In the United States” last October.
Rubio sent a letter to Mnuchin the same month to “express concern with regard to Chinese influence operations” tied to TikTok, and he argued that Chinese-owned apps “are increasingly being used to censor content” such as Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other issues.
TikTok has been downloaded more than 2 billion times worldwide through Apple’s App Store and Google Play as of April, according to the Sensor Tower data website, and there are tens of millions of users In the U.S.
India banned almost 60 Chinese cellphone apps, including TikTok, In late June, and there are calls from lawmakers In Australia and Japan for TikTok to be banned there too.
The Pentagon banned service members from using TikTok In late 2019. An Army spokesperson said it “identifies TikTok as having potential security risks associated with its use” while a U.S. Fleet Cyber Command spokesperson noted the ban followed “cybersecurity threat assessments.”
The Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department also banned TikTok on government devices.
The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report In June detailing how China is the illicitly targeting U.S. communications the same way it has targeted education, research, and personal data.
The Justice Department and U.S. intelligence agencies believe Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese companies are working hand-In-hand with the Chinese Communist Party, potentially giving China access to hardware and networks worldwide.