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Senators Call for TikTok Security Review Over China Espionage Fears

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) want U.S. intelligence officials to take a closer look at TikTok: In a letter to the acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the two senators asked for a review of the security risks posed by TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Schumer and Cotton wrote.

TikTok responded to the letter with a lengthy statement Thursday afternoon, denying any connection to the Chinese government. “We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” it said in part. “TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.”

TikTok is owned and operated by Beijing-based ByteDance. The company has said in the past that it wasn’t storing data from Western users in China, but Schumer and Cotton argued in their letter that the company could still be compelled to work with Chinese intelligence.

“Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” the duo wrote in their letter. “Without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for data or other actions, there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request.”

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The two senators also referenced recent reports that TikTok had been censoring videos in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong even for users not residing in China, and that TikTok may be used to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

TikTok also denied this charge in its statement, claiming that it had never censored content on behest of the Chinese government. “TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the company said. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”

Update: This post was updated throughout with a response from TikTok.

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