Joining Maryland, Nebraska, and South Dakota, five additional states have banned the social media platform TikTok from government devices.

Like previous states who banned the China-based social media platform, Texas, Utah, Alabama, South Carolina, and Oklahoma all cited cybersecurity concerns in their press releases and memos to state employees.

As part of his banning the use of TikTok on any government-issued devices, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent letters to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, and state agency leaders. In the letters, the governor highlighted Texas’ responsibility to preserve the safety and cybersecurity of Texans, in addition to the Federal government’s responsibility for foreign policy issues.

“While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data,” reads one of Gov. Abbott’s letters. “It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens. Further, under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses are required to assist China in intelligence work including data sharing, and TikTok’s algorithm has already censored topics politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, including the Tiananmen Square protests.”

Gov. Abbott directed state agency leaders to immediately ban its officers and employees from downloading or using TikTok on any government-issued devices capable of internet connectivity, which is to be enforced by an agency’s IT department.

The governor also ordered direct joint action by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for other state agencies that would address vulnerabilities presented by the use of TikTok on personal devices by January 15, 2023. Each state agency will then have until February 15, 2023, to implement its own policy governing the use of TikTok on personal devices.

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order to prohibit the use of TikTok on all state-owned electronic devices, which will take effect immediately. The order states that agency or agency employees may not, on any state-owned electronic device, download or use the TikTok application or visit any TikTok website.

“China’s access to data collected by TikTok presents a threat to our cybersecurity,” said Gov. Cox. “As a result, we’ve deleted our TikTok account and ordered the same on all state-owned devices. We must protect Utahns and make sure that the people of Utah can trust the state’s security systems.”

In a memo to state agency leaders posted to Twitter, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she has asked the secretary of IT to update the agency’s policies to “prevent TikTok from accessing the state IT network and state IT devices.” Ivey, unlike other governors, did note that she is providing an exception for law enforcement and “other essential governmental uses of the app.” Though, she did not specify what would constitute an “essential” use of the app.

In a letter to the South Carolina Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster requested that the South Carolina Department of Administration block access to TikTok from all government-owned devices. The South Carolina Department of Administration manages all state-owned devices.

“Protecting our State’s critical cyber infrastructure from foreign and domestic threats is key to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our citizens and businesses,” Governor McMaster wrote in the letter. “Federal law enforcement and national security officials have warned that TikTok poses a clear and present danger to its users, and a growing bi-partisan coalition in Congress is pushing to ban access to TikTok in the United States.”

According to the governor’s office, the Department of Administration uses shared services and centralization to help agencies efficiently and securely carry out common government functions. In his letter to Executive Director Adams, Gov. McMaster requested an accounting of agencies not currently utilizing the shared services.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of state agencies who continue to operate in a silo,” he said. “I ask that you provide my office with a listing of state agencies for whom the department is unable to permanently block access to TikTok.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order banning TikTok for state government agencies, employees, and contractors on government networks or government-issued devices capable of internet connectivity.

“Maintaining the cybersecurity of state government is necessary to continue to serve and protect Oklahoma citizens and we will not participate in helping the Chinese Communist Party gain access to government information,” said Governor Stitt.

The state cited FBI Director Christopher Wray recently saying that TikTok is a threat to national security. “The Chinese government has shown a willingness to steal Americans’ data on a scale that dwarfs any other,” Wray said.

There have been a number of attempts to ban TikTok from the country writ large, as well as ban it on devices owned by specific agencies, as well as from use by the Federal government as a whole. The U.S. Senate has also probed military and national security personnel’s use of the app in both a professional and personal capacity.

Concerns over using TikTok on government devices have been bipartisan, although most Federal legislation looking to ban the social media platform has come from Republican legislators. All of the states that have thus far taken steps to ban TikTok on state-owned devices have been led by Republican governors.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs