Hawley Demands Answers On TikTok Whistleblower’s Allegations

On Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who acts as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), demanding a thorough investigation into new whistleblower allegations that employees of TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, can easily access U.S. data.

The whistleblower alleged, “TikTok and ByteDance employees – including members of the Chinese Communist Party known to be on ByteDance’s payroll – can switch between Chinese and U.S. data with nothing more than the click of a button,” a press release from Hawley’s office explained. 

“TikTok and ByteDance employees use tools that allow for easy access to U.S. data. Some tools only require approval from a manager and a dataset owner before a China-based employee can access U.S. data,” the whistleblower also alleged, adding, “TikTok coordinates activities with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. They use the same data analysis tools and chat apps, and managers are in constant contact.”

In the letter to Yellen, Hawley wrote, “I write regarding new information brought to my attention by a former ByteDance employee with direct knowledge of TikTok’s operating practices. As Chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), you are responsible for reviewing certain foreign transactions in the United States to determine potential threats to national security. This whistleblower’s allegations are deeply concerning. They also appear to contradict public statements made by TikTok and ByteDance executives.”

“These highly disturbing allegations are yet another reason why we should ban TikTok in the United States. Despite TikTok’s many reassurances that members of the Chinese Communist Party do not have access to U.S. data, it seems more and more likely that they do,” he continued. 

Hawley then asked Yellen a series of questions to help Congress create remedial legislation, including, “Has TikTok or ByteDance disclosed to CFIUS any software tools, datasets facilities, or internal products named Dorado, Big Service Management, Coral, Triton, or Aeolus?”

“Has TikTok or ByteDance disclosed to CFIUS whether employees in China have the ability to toggle between U.S. and Chinese data through any of the tools listed above? If so, please explain the access controls on these systems,” Hawley asked. “Has TikTok disclosed to CFIUS whether U.S. data can be accessed on systems like Dorado by engineers based in China?”

“Has CFIUS obtained any details relating to the internal approval process for accessing U.S. data by TikTok or ByteDance employees? Please list all access controls protecting U.S. data,” Hawley added. “Is it your understanding that China-based companies and their employees are subject to Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law, which provides ‘Any organization or citizen shall support, assist and co-operate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law’?”

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