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TikTok gained attention during an investigation at the US border

TikTok gained attention during an investigation at the US border

Upon arrival in the United States, a large number of TikTok employees, primarily of Chinese descent, were subjected to intensive interrogation by Border Patrol agents. These questions focused on their potential access to sensitive American information and their potential connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

Article by Emily Baker-White for Forbes US – Translated by Lisa Teleforderi

For years, TikTok and its Chinese parent ByteDance have faced scrutiny from U.S. regulators, who fear the app could give the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' data or influence the content they can access.

In several hearings, lawmakers questioned executives about whether they employ CCP members and, if so, how much decision-making power those individuals wield within the organization. At a hearing in January, Senator Tom Cotton repeatedly questioned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about whether he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Chew (married to an American living in Singapore) insisted on his Singaporean nationality. Nationality.

Tik Tok under surveillance: Staff investigation at US border

Forbes Informed sources learned that more than 30 TikTok employees entering the US were stopped at the border and had to answer similar questions from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

According to sources, many of these employees are Chinese and work at ByteDance and TikTok in various capacities, including data engineering and machine learning. CBP officials questioned employees about the relationship between TikTok and ByteDance and the companies' billion-dollar effort to separate the personal data of American TikTok users from access by Chinese employees. The initiative, known locally as the “Texas Project,” was the focus of questions raised during these hearings.

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CBP officials questioned employees about TikTok's access to US user data, the location of the company's US data centers and their involvement in Project Texas.

Employees were also interrogated on personal matters such as membership in the Chinese Communist Party, education and their political connections in China. An informed source said Forbes Officers used a printed list of questions to interview employees.

The investigations of TikTok employees are part of an increase in CBP investigations of Chinese students and academics — especially those working in the sciences — at U.S. borders, a sign of fears of technological espionage on China's part. Students and researchers were also questioned about their academic work and ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Data privacy concerns persist

TikTok's efforts to prevent China-based employees from accessing US user data have continued for years, but the company has repeatedly reassured them about how secure that data is. In the summer of 2022, there is BuzzFeed News reported US user data is still widely accessible to employees in China, raising concerns that the Chinese government could force them to share that data against their will. A few months later, Forbes A China-based group plans to use the TikTok app to track US citizens. The company launched an internal investigation, it was revealed The group monitored the whereabouts of the journalistsIncluding this reporter, in order to find out their sources.

Despite the breach, TikTok and ByteDance have continued to insist that US user data is safe. But the statement Forbes TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress in March 2023, however, showing that information including banking information and social security numbers of creators and advertisers were stored in China. Following the article Forbes On data storage, Senate leaders questioned TikTok over these “false claims”.

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Is TikTok banned in the US?

Last week, US President Joe Biden took a historic step by signing legislation that could ban TikTok — the first time the US government has banned a major app or internet service. The law would force Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores within 270 days unless ByteDance sells its stake in the app's US operations (or courts block the law from taking effect). The move is part of a $95 billion (€88.8 billion) foreign aid package, which also includes military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

TikTok and ByteDance have vowed to challenge the share sale bill in court. But in the meantime, they face several legal challenges from the US government. In 2023, the United States Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into ByteDance after the company admitted to using TikTok to track US citizens. Additionally, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been investigating ByteDance and its acquisition of TikTok since 2019, which eventually became TikTok. Last year, CFIUS took a position that now has the force of law: ByteDance must withdraw from TikTok or face a ban on the app.

These ongoing cases may provide clues about how and why Customs and Border Protection agents question employees. CBP investigations are often used to gather information about individuals and entities under government investigation. CBP is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose head is a member of the nine-member CFIUS panel.

A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in a statement: “CBB's mission is to protect people and businesses under government investigation, to secure our nation's borders and to enforce a wide range of laws at our nation's ports of entry. Local and state law enforcement. Passengers are also subject to screening.

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Also, foreign employees of TikTok and ByteDance are finding it very difficult to travel to the US for their work. According to internal documents reviewed Forbes, a review of the company's internal policies, carried out in the fall, now limits all business travel to the United States to less than 30 days. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

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