Skip to content

FBI director warns Senate of Chinese control over TikTok data

Christopher Wray tells Intelligence panel app could be used to show Americans videos arguing why Taiwan belongs to China

Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., makes an opening statement during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats Wednesday. At the witness table from left are FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director 
William J.Burns and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott D.Berrier.
Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., makes an opening statement during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats Wednesday. At the witness table from left are FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director William J.Burns and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott D.Berrier. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Wednesday that TikTok is a tool within the control of the Chinese government, and the popular video-sharing application “screams out” with national security concerns and could be used to drive narratives that divide Americans.

The Chinese government, working through TikTok owner ByteDance, could use the platform to control data on millions of users and the software on millions of devices, Wray told lawmakers during an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Something that’s very sacred in our country — the difference between the private sector and the public sector — that’s a line that is nonexistent in the way the [Chinese Communist Party] operates,” Wray said.

Many Americans would not be comfortable handing their data or control of their information to the Chinese Communist Party, Wray said.

Wray’s comments come as TikTok faces heightened scrutiny in Washington, with politicians from both parties eyeing tougher action against the app that is popular with teenagers.

The committee also held the hearing a day after a bipartisan group of senators put forward draft legislation that would give the Commerce Department authority to identify and stop any technology from China or other adversaries from entering the U.S. if it is a national security risk.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner has said that TikTok could be one of the technologies targeted by the new process. The video-sharing app, he said on Tuesday, has as many as 100 million Americans using it for an average of about 90 minutes a day.

At the hearing Wednesday, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio asked about a situation in which China wanted to invade Taiwan. Wray agreed that the platform could be used to show Americans videos arguing why Taiwan belongs to China and why the U.S. should not intervene.

“We’re not sure that we would see many of the outward signs of it happening if it was happening,” Wray said of such an effort.

Rubio, the top Republican on the committee, teed off on the video-sharing application and said there are different versions of TikTok, one feeding American society “poison” and one in China that instills positive values, such as encouraging people to focus on math and science.

“So they can collect our data, manipulate information, poison the minds and feed garbage into the minds of millions of people and so forth,” Rubio said. “Given the threat, I imagine this is the reason why TikTok is no longer allowed on federal devices pretty soon.”

Responding to a question from Rubio, Wray said the application’s popularity with people under 35 years old should not be a reason to prevent taking strong action against the platform.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said the issue is also broader than just TikTok. “There are other things that are coming out of China that are electronic, that are doing the exact same thing, just in different areas,” he said. “Just TikTok is kind of the big dog in this.”

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said people should find a different platform. “The American people don’t need to spend three weeks out of the year on a platform that’s run out of Beijing, for Beijing’s purposes,” Bennet said.

Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Roads to the House majority: Interstate 5

Battleground House matchups to be set in New York, Colorado

Bowman fights for survival as Maloy, Tenney also face primaries

At Aspen conference, a call to prioritize stopping gun violence

Appeals court rules preventive care task force unconstitutional

Key players return to Congressional Softball Game, this time at the microphone