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FBI, DOJ investigating TikTok spying on journalists

TikTok (Dreamstime/TNS)
March 17, 2023

The FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance over allegations that the app has been used to spy on journalists.

The DOJ Criminal Division, Fraud Section, subpoenaed ByteDance over employee attempts to access to the location information and other private user data of American journalists, according to a Forbes report. The FBI has also reportedly conducted interviews about the surveillance, but it is not clear whether those are connected to the subpoena.

The subpoena comes as President Joe Biden’s administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. if ByteDance doesn’t sell its stakes in the company, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) made the demand following growing concerns over TikTok and national security.

In December, ByteDance admitted to using TikTok to attempt to spy on some reporters to determine whether they had been in proximity to potential leakers working for the company. The chief internal auditor of ByteDance, Chris Lepitak, was fired, while China-based manager Song Ye resigned over the controversy, as reported by The Verge.

“We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us,” said ByteDance spokesperson Jennifer Banks.

READ MORE: TikTok considers splitting from ByteDance if deal with US fails

The targeting of journalists included former BuzzFeed reporter Emily Baker-White and Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle, among other reporters, according to The Guardian.

Over two dozen states have already banned TikTok from state-owned devices over security concerns. In addition, some state university campus systems have blocked TikTok from being accessed on university networks.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month for further questions related to the app’s security concerns. The consequences of any ban could be massive for the U.S., as TikTok ranks among the most popular apps in the country.