Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is still using the popular Chinese-owned app TikTok despite a ban in her state for state-owned devices that went into effect on March 1.
“It is banned for state devices,” Jayson Cavendish, Michigan’s acting chief security officer, said in an interview with the MLive media group.
The ban applies to state-owned devices except for Whitmer, a Democrat, and for purposes of promotion, law enforcement, and cybersecurity, MLive reported.
Cavendish also noted, according to MLive, that Whitmer’s TikTok account “is accessed on a secure device that has never been on the state’s network, nor connected to the state’s wireless environment.”
Whitmer, who was reelected to a second four-year term in November, has posted numerous times since the ban went into effect earlier this month, and most recently posted on Thursday.
“It’s a state of Michigan device, but it follows the guidelines that are in place for the exceptions,” said Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “And the exceptions are for any department that feels that they need it for their job to convey with the public, or for investigative purposes.”
Leddy also noted that Michigan was the leader in enacting guidelines for the Chinese-owned app “when the site went into that ‘monitored mode’ three years ago,” MLive reported.
The governor’s “air-gapped” device, Leddy said, “follows the right guidelines ‘that block it from things that are connected to servers or state information,’” according to MLive.
An “air gap” refers to “a security measure that involves isolating a computer or network and preventing it from establishing an external connection,” TechTarget.com reported. “Air gaps protect critical computer systems or data from potential attacks, ranging from malware and ransomware to keyloggers or other attacks from malicious actors.”
Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated his concerns over TikTok during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday.
The Daily Signal contacted the governor’s office and Cavendish seeking confirmation that Whitmer is still using TikTok, and to ask why she is still using it, whether she is concerned about the national security implications associated with using TikTok, and how she is ensuring her data and the state’s data is secure, but did not immediately get a response.
“It’s the control of the data to conduct all sorts of big data operations; it’s the control of the recommendation algorithm, which allows them to conduct influence operations; it’s the control of the software, which allows them to then have access to millions of devices,” Wray said.
“So, you put all those three things together and again come back to the starting point, which is, this is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government, and it—to me—it screams out with national security concerns,” the FBI chief added.
Jake Denton, a research associate in the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, weighed in on Whitmer’s decision to continue using TikTok. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“Governor Whitmer’s decision to continue using TikTok is incredibly irresponsible. For over two years, we have been aware that TikTok poses a significant threat to our national security,” Denton told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement. “Her decision to remain on the application will needlessly jeopardize the safety of her state and the people she is supposed to protect.”
“TikTok should not be on anyone’s device, and given the abundance of information available to her, the governor knows that. Whitmer was elected to lead her state, not to be a TikTok influencer,” Denton said.
TikTok faces bipartisan scrutiny at both the state and federal level. More than 30 states, led by Democratic and Republican governors alike, have taken action to ban the app on some or all state-issued devices and networks, The Daily Signal previously reported.
Federal government agencies have less than a month to remove TikTok from their devices, according to an Office of Management and Budget memorandum issued on Feb. 27, The Daily Signal previously reported.
OMB Director Shalanda Young issued the memorandum for executive departments and agency heads about implementation guidance for banning TikTok on government-issued devices, Reuters first reported.
“The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, enacted the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, which instructs the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the administrator of General Services, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, and the secretary of Defense, to develop standards and guidelines for agencies requiring the removal of TikTok from federal information technology,” Young said in the memorandum.
“This memorandum fulfills that requirement by directing agencies to remove TikTok from federal devices and providing instructions and deadlines for that removal,” Young said.
Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s chief executive officer, is scheduled to testify March 23 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Reuters reported.
TikTok did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
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