The Justice Department is investigating TikTok over a journalist spying incident
- March 18, 2023
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The Biden administration has recently ramped up pressure on TikTok over national security concerns stemming from its ties to China, and it appears the Justice Department and FBI are also applying pressure themselves.
Forbes first reported that the agencies are actively investigating ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. The investigation was reportedly launched after some employees used the app to spy on US-based journalists – an incident confirmed by an internal probe late last year.
Now, the New York Times and other media outlets concurred with Forbes’ reporting, confirming that the Department of Justice’s Criminal Investigation Division’s Fraud Division is coordinating with the FBI and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to authorize the violation of user privacy investigate.
During the internal investigation, ByteDance found that some employees accessed data from American journalists’ TikTok accounts to investigate who at the company leaked information to reporters. Of the employees involved in the incident who were subsequently fired, two were part of the company’s operations in China.
The latest revelations come a week before TikTok’s CEO is due to testify before Congress — a performance that is likely to draw deep suspicion even by technical hearing standards. In the days leading up to the hearing, the Biden administration significantly toughened its stance on the company, threatening to ban the app in the US if TikTok’s Chinese owners don’t sell the company.
TikTok dismissed the White House’s new divestment call, arguing that selling the company will not address government concerns. TikTok instead referred to its own proposed solution, although it’s difficult to convince the US government that a China-based company operating in the US should be allowed to self-regulate. To address concerns about the app’s relationship with China, TikTok launched a $1.5 billion initiative called Project Texas, which would store US user data domestically and subject the company to an audit process conducted by American tech giant Oracle.