State employees will need to limit TikTok binges to their personal phones if a bipartisan bill before the Oregon Legislature moves forward as expected.
House Bill 3127, set to receive a committee vote Thursday, would make Oregon the latest state to ban use of the popular video-sharing app on government-owned devices. The social media move comes amid growing concerns that TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, has spied on journalists and could share data with the Chinese government.
Under the bill, state agencies would be banned from downloading or accessing products from ByteDance and a number of other companies that have been linked to governments hostile to the U.S. Those include China-based companies Alipay, ZTE, Huawei and Tencent Holdings, along with Russia-based cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs. The law would include exceptions for agencies using prohibited apps for law enforcement investigations or regulatory purposes.
HB 3127 was put forward by state Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, who concedes he is not inventing the wheel with the proposal. More than two dozen states have already taken action to block use of TikTok, either through legislation or executive orders from the governor. Bans have cropped up most in Republican-led states, though not exclusively. Washington state has no policy prohibiting the app.
The White House announced last month that employees have 30 days to delete TikTok from their government devices. President Joe Biden’s administration has now threatened an all-out ban on the plaftorm if the app isn’t divorced from its parent company, even as TikTok works to assure lawmakers it’s moving to wall off employees in China from data for U.S. users.
In light of all that action, Bowman says he saw an opportunity for an easy bipartisan win with HB 3127. Five of the bill’s 10 sponsors are Republicans.
“And I think that it’s a legitimate issue,” Bowman said this week. “I’m nervous and concerned about the tension between the United States and China, and the United States and Russia. I definitely believe that cybersecurity is gonna be incredibly important in the coming decades.”
Bowman and other lawmakers met with representatives from TikTok recently to discuss the bill and hear the company’s opinion, he said.
“They understood our concerns,” he said. “They didn’t tell us that they weren’t legitimate, but they said: ‘These are all the things we’re doing [to ensure data privacy]. Here’s all the processes and procedures.’”
Even so, Bowman and his allies on the issue say keeping potentially hostile software off of state devices is an easy decision. The idea has backing from the Oregon Department of Justice, which called the bill “yet another step the State of Oregon can take to prevent unauthorized access and ensure that state information and infrastructure are protected.”
In Oregon, state agencies are often left to set their own rules for what applications are fair game.
While there is no blanket ban on TikTok, some agencies, including the Department of Human Services, have a set of approved applications employees may download without explicit permissions. If they want to download an app that is not on that list — like TikTok — they must go through an exception process to request it, DHS spokesman Jake Sunderland said, “and could only download apps required to do the business of their position.”
The state is in the process of centralizing control of access to apps and other programs with the Department of Administrative Services, Oregon’s central administrative agency.
Bowman said Tuesday he hasn’t heard any opposition to HB 3127 from other lawmakers, and that he thinks the proposal should pass with a few changes.
Under an amendment that’s expected to move forward, the state’s chief information officer would be empowered to add and remove companies from the list of businesses whose products are prohibited. And rollout of the ban would occur gradually, as the state centralizes control of devices with the administrative services office. Slowing down implementation to coincide with that process was a way to keep the bill from spurring new costs for state agencies, which could hurt its chances of passage, Bowman said.
“To be candid, I would like a broader application of this bill,” he said. “I would like it to apply to more devices — state government, local government.”
Officials and agencies in some states have shown a flair for TikTok. In California, for instance, both the state energy commission and Gov. Gavin Newsom use the platform. So does Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, despite her state’s recent decision to ban the app on state-issued devices.
Not so in Oregon. Gov. Tina Kotek does not have an account. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan does, though she’s posted only two videos, most recently in 2020. A spokesperson said Fagan and staff discontinued use of the app and removed it from state devices last year.
One group that has shown some interest in the platform lately: the House Democratic caucus, to which Bowman belongs. In a December TikTok post, the rookie lawmaker can be seen winking at the camera, his hand extended in a finger gun.
The post and those like it, recorded by a communications staffer on a personal cellphone, would not be impacted by HB 3127.