By Suzanne Smalley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone on Tuesday expressed concern during congressional testimony about Chinese-owned video app TikTok’s data collection and potential to facilitate broad influence operations.
Asked by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville about any concerns he has about TikTok’s influence on American children, Nakasone told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, “TikTok concerns me for a number of different reasons.”
Nakasone said his concerns include “the data that they have.”
“Secondly is the algorithm and the control of who has the algorithm,” Nakasone added.
Nakasone ended his comments by asserting that the TikTok platform could enable sweeping influence operations. Nakasone said his concern is not only the fact that TikTok can proactively influence users but also its ability to “turn off the message,” and noted its large number of users.
The app is used by more than 100 million Americans.
The NSA, part of the Defense Department, is the agency responsible for U.S. cryptographic and communications intelligence and security.
The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered Chinese company ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that user data could be passed onto China’s government.
“The swiftest and most thorough way to address any national security concerns about TikTok is for CFIUS – of which the Department of Defense and the NSA are a part – to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” said TikTok representative Brooke Oberwetter, adding that TikTok’s “status has been debated in public in a way that is divorced from the facts of that agreement and what we’ve achieved already.”
For three years, TikTok has been seeking to assure the United States that the personal data of American citizens cannot be accessed and its content cannot be manipulated by China’s Communist Party or anyone else under Beijing’s influence.
TikTok, a unit of China’s ByteDance, has come under increasing fire over fears that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests. TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew is due to appear before the U.S. Congress on March 23.
A bipartisan group of 12 U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation on Tuesday that would give Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo new powers to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies if they are found to pose national security threats.
(Reporting by Suzanne Smalley; Editing by Will Dunham and Mark Porter)