Justice Department investigates TikTok spying incident on journalist
The Biden administration has recently ramped up pressure on TikTok over national security concerns stemming from its ties to China, and apparently the Justice Department and FBI are also exerting their own pressures.
Forbes first reported that the agencies were actively investigating ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. The investigation was reportedly opened after some employees used the app to spy on US-based journalists – an incident corroborated by an internal investigation late last year.
Now, the New York Times and other news outlets have backed up Forbes’ reports, confirming that the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Fraud Section is coordinating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate. on the violation of users’ privacy.
In the internal investigation, ByteDance found that some employees had accessed data from US journalists’ TikTok accounts in order to investigate who at the company was leaking information to journalists. Among the employees involved in the incident – who were fired after the fact – two were part of the company’s operations in China.
The latest revelations come a week before the TikTok CEO is due to testify before Congress – an appearance likely to raise deep suspicion even by tech 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 United States if TikTok’s Chinese owners don’t sell the company.
TikTok has rejected the White House’s new divestiture request, arguing that selling the business would not address government concerns. TikTok instead pointed to its own proposed solution, though convincing the US government that a China-based company operating in the US should be allowed to self-regulate is a tough sell. To ease concerns about the app’s relationship with China, TikTok launched a $1.5 billion initiative known as “Project Texas” that would store US user data nationally and submit the company to an audit process conducted by the American technology giant Oracle.