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TikTok banned from Kentucky government devices

Kentucky Capitol Building
Ryland Barton
/

Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration banned TikTok on state government devices and accounts Thursday as concerns grow over the app’s risk to national security.

The move comes after Congress passed legislation last month banning the app from federal devices and networks as part of the omnibus spending bill, and 20 other states have banned the app, including Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

A spokesperson for the Beshear administration said the changes had been under consideration for several weeks and were based on the recent Congressional action and advice from federal law enforcement.

The policy does not apply to personal use on personal devices. TikTok, owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, has for years faced bipartisan criticism and worries that it doesn’t fully protect U.S. users' data from the Chinese government.

The FBI warned last month of possible threats to national security posed by the social media platform.

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order last week banning TikTok on devices used by government employees, and extended the ban to any apps or social media platforms based in China.

And Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers went a step ahead with his executive order, banning vendors, products and services from other Chinese companies including Huawei Technologies and Hikvision.

TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has faced controversies focused on concerns over user data, security and the company's statements to U.S. authorities on those issues.

Bills in the Kentucky Legislature

During the first week of the legislative session, Republican lawmakers filed two bills – Senate Bill 20 and House Bill 124–that would prohibit the download or use of TikTok on any state government-issued devices or networks and would go into effect immediately upon passage.

Republican Rep. Scott Sharp from Ashland, the sponsor of the House bill, said it’s important to protect the state’s networks from security vulnerabilities.

“Our bill aims to secure the Kentucky state government and government networks from any connections with the Chinese government. If the reporting is true on how TikTok downloads personal data that includes people’s accounts and passwords, they can compromise the state’s networks at any time if they want to target us specifically, and even shut them down,” he said.

Kentucky lawmakers have relatively little presence on the app, except for former Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey, who now serves in Congress.. During a discussion on KET this week, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said, in jest, Sen. Damon Thayer has been egged on to participate, but apparently refused to.

"It just means no more Morgan McGarvey, Damon Thayer ride-along, sing-along," he said.

Lawmakers will reconvene on Feb. 7 to consider the two bills.

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Divya is Kentucky Public Radio's Capitol Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.