02.23.20

SCHUMER REVEALS: TSA IS STILL USING ‘TIKTOK’ APP ON SOCIAL MEDIA; SENATOR SAYS RISKS TO AMERICAN & FED SECURITY VIA THE PLATFORM REMAIN; PENTAGON & DHS HAVE BANNED IT, TSA SHOULD TOO

The Pentagon & The Department Of Homeland Security, Which Oversees The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Have ALL Prohibited, Banned The Use Of  The China-Owned Social Media Platform ‘TikTok’—BUT TSA Is Still Using It On Verified Government Account(s) To Engage Travelers

Schumer, Who First Sounded The Alarm On The App’s Security Concerns & Prompted Fed Action, Says TSA Is One Of THE Main Agencies We Should Absolutely Not Allow TikTok To Collect Government Data On, Including Possible Communications About Airport Security

Schumer: Given The Risks, Feds Cannot Continue To Allow TSA’s Use Of TikTok App To Fly

Citing concerns for the security of a federal agency and potentially the flying public, as well as an existing ban of the China-owned TikTok app within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed today that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is still using the app on social media. Schumer said the risks to American and federal agency security via the platform remain very real and urged the TSA to cease its use of TikTok. Schumer says the TSA, charged with ensuring the security of our airports and the flying public, should not be exempt from the ban, especially given its parent agency, DHS, already has a prohibition policy in place.

“The TSA is to be recognized for its work to engage a variety of stakeholders with airline rules and safety, but it also must acknowledge the ironic risk it’s placing its own agency—and potentially the public—in with its continued use of the China-owned TikTok app,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing national security concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA’s use of the platform to fly."

Even amidst federal inquiries into the TikTok app, the TSA was posting—and continues to post—a variety of videos from agency accounts, which Schumer says raises security concerns. On Thanksgiving, the TSA posted a TikTok that went viral related to the ‘nopes’ & ‘yeps’ of carry-on luggage. And this past Valentine’s Day, the agency posted ‘romantic tips’ for travelers in another TikTok. Schumer says the more recent TikToks are even more concerning because they are posted amidst the DHS’ own TikTok ban, which the TSA is overseen by. In addition, the official TSA account on twitter shares these TikToks, which garner hundreds of views. And the official “AskTSA” Twitter account even comments on them.  

“These videos sure do make you chuckle; they’re creative,” said Schumer. “But China might be laughing at these TSA postings for very different reasons, and that should concern us and it’s why I am urging the TSA to find a different platform, and cease its use of TikTok now."

On October 23, 2019, Schumer sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence requesting that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-owned content platforms operating in the United States. Schumer explained that national security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information, particularly when viewed in light of laws that compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Schumer further explained that due to a lack of transparency and without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for user data or other actions, that there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request by the government.

Soon after Schumer’s initial concerns were aired, the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security all banned the use of TikTok as it related to government devices, and encouraged personnel to avoid the app altogether.

Schumer’s letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske appears below:

Dear Administrator Pekoske:

I write to express my concern about the use of China-owned social media platforms, such as TikTok, by your agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Recently, both the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, detailed social media policies and guidelines as it relates to use of the China-owned app TikTok due to security and privacy concerns. Despite these restrictions, including at TSA’s parent DHS, your agency continues to utilize TikTok to communicate with the American public in an official capacity. While I recognize that the TSA must adapt its outreach techniques in order to communicate with a variety of Americans, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms.

On October 23, 2019, I sent a letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence requesting that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-owned content platforms operating in the United States. National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information, particularly when viewed in light of laws that compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Further, due to a lack of transparency and without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for user data or other actions, there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request.

Consequently, I respectfully ask that you provide answers to the following questions as soon as possible:

1. Has the TSA consulted with the Intelligence Community and the Department of Homeland Security with regard to TikTok and other China-owned social media platforms, and whether they pose security risks as platforms for engaging the flying public? If not, does the TSA have future plans for such consultations?  

2. Has the TSA been given an exemption from the Department of Homeland Security’s own ban of TikTok?

3. Are TSA officials using government issued devices as part of their official TikTok usage?

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer



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