TikTok Could Control Data and Divide Americans, FBI’s Wray Says

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(Bloomberg) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray said TikTok could be used to control data and software on millions of devices in the US and drive narratives to divide Americans while even intelligence agencies might miss manipulation by the Chinese-owned video app.

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“We’re not sure that we would see many of the outward signs of it happening if it was happening,” Wray said Wednesday. “This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government and to me it screams out with national security concerns.”

Wray responded to questions from Republican Senator Marco Rubio during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the annual report on worldwide threats from US intelligence agencies. Rubio called TikTok, the popular app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., “one of the most valuable surveillance tools on the planet.”

The Biden administration threw its support Tuesday behind a bipartisan bill that could give the president authority to ban or force a sale of TikTok, which could hasten passage and break a deadlock over how to address privacy concerns around the popular app.

Read more: White House Endorses TikTok Bill, Calls for Swift Passage

“They can collect our data, manipulate information, poison the minds and feed garbage into the minds of millions of people,” Rubio said. “This is a substantial national security threat for the country, of a kind that we didn’t face in the past.”

The platform has been under a national security review by the government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, or Cfius, and is set to be banned on federal devices.

“The swiftest and most thorough way to address any national security concerns about TikTok is for Cfius to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement Tuesday.

Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the bill endorsed by the White House, saying it would ban an entire communications platform.

The bill “would significantly expand the executive branch’s power to control what apps and technologies Americans can access, while limiting Americans’ ability to challenge those actions in court,” the ACLU said in a statement Wednesday.

--With assistance from Anna Edgerton.

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