TikTok and Spy Balloons: Unguarded America Provides No Resistance to China  

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

“Balloon-gate” was an embarrassment for the Biden administration at the hands of China, but even more than that, it was a symptom of a much more serious problem that is festering in the halls of Capitol Hill. 

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America suffers hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of intellectual property theft and unabated hacking attacks at the hands of China. And there are still many unanswered questions as to the origins of the COVID-19 disaster. All of these factors have emboldened China to behave as if they are the most powerful superpower the world has ever seen.

The utter ineptitude that has surfaced over the past two years of the Biden presidency seems to know no bounds. From the crisis at the border to the botched Afghanistan pullout to the historic inflation that Americans have suffered through, this divided Congress has yet to provide any substantive fixes, or at the very least, provide a measure of comfort to voters by creating a sense of stability. 

But despite their political differences, legislators across party lines should all agree that inadequate cyber-defenses and data security are serious matters. 

Last year, ransomware and other hacking attacks, many of them thought to be carried out by state actors, caused massive disruptions and cost entities in both the public and private sectors billions of dollars. The ongoing Ukraine War is often cited as one of the most prominent examples of these cyber events. 

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So far this year, ransomware has already been a threat to the hospital and financial services industries. Although overall cyber attacks on businesses decreased by 61% last year, new and sophisticated malware variants emerge each week as part of a perpetual threat to national security. 

Although Americans mostly associate data security with major attacks against large corporations and governments that make headlines, individuals are actually far more vulnerable to newer ransomware strains and the growing threat of adware.  

So as the Executive Branch snores at the wheel, Congress must take immediate action to safeguard America’s cybersecurity and prevent malicious cyber-attacks from going unaddressed, especially as a recent shock report from States Newsroom reveals that 32 members of Congress—31 Democrats and one independent—were still using TikTok as of January.

Given the risks to security posed by TikTok, the fact that the app was still on personal devices owned by congressional members is a major cause for concern. According to China’s laws, companies like ByteDance (the app’s parent company) and other tech firms are required to grant the government access to any data they hold. This is a danger to American security, as legislators who still use the app on personal devices can easily be vulnerable to foreign interference.

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Roughly half of the congressional members on the report who had TikTok installed on personal devices hold or have previously held positions on committees related to military or foreign affairs.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), as well as “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), are among the many Democratic House members in the report. In the Senate, New Jersey’s Cory Booker is a “TikToker” who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which regularly grants him access to classified information.

TikTok collects location information, contacts, and browsing history, among other personal data. This information can be used to track these congressional members and potentially put them at risk of being victimized in foreign extortion plots. Voters should make a note of this wildly irresponsible behavior and the fact that it is coming almost exclusively from Democrats and not Republicans. 

TikTok may pose a major security risk not only to Congress but also to many high-profile Americans who may possess anti-China views. For this reason, it is essential that Congress backs Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) proposed legislation to ban TikTok in the United States. Additionally, voters must hold those irresponsible congressional reps still using TikTok accountable at the ballot box. 

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It is well beyond time to demonstrate that such reckless behavior has consequences, and voting with these important security-related issues at the top of mind helps ensure that America remains safe and secure.

Current leadership, particularly at the top levels of the Democratic Party, continually puts American security at risk. From Joe Biden’s disgraceful sale of strategic oil reserves and the classified documents scandal, to the Department of Homeland Security’s mishandling of the southern border, and now this congressional misstep with TikTok, it seems that American security has never been quite as vulnerable as it is now.

 

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