Why are US Legislators Still Using Apps That Can Collect Data for Foreign Governments?

Why are US Legislators Still Using Apps That Can Collect Data for Foreign Governments?

Cyber Security and Hacking

The legislative branch of the United States is clearly as divided as ever. Not only are Democrats at odds with Republicans, but there was also several days’ worth of off-putting political theatrics in early January as the GOP controlled House of Representatives struggled through Republican in-fighting to elect a House Speaker.

Not helping matters on the unity front are several new bills that have little chance of passing through the Democratic-led Senate, including legislation to countermand the “Inflation Reduction Act” as well as Senator Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) PELOSI (Preventing Elected Leaders from Owning Securities and Investments) Act. Even if they advanced through the Senate, President Biden would never sign these bills into law that can only become called GOP “Hail Marys.”

But one issue that would bring together legislators across party lines would be shoring up America’s inadequate cyber-defenses. In 2022, a multitude of major cyber attacks, many that became state-sponsored occurred; with the Ukrainian conflict becoming perhaps the most prominent source. These hacking incidents highlighted the severity of cyber threats and their ongoing effects on the world.

Since early January, ransomware attacks have targeted the hospital and financial services industries. Despite the fact that overall ransomware attacks affecting businesses went down by 61 percent in 2022; the average American is being targeted with countless new malware variants on a daily basis. This puts national security at risk and calls for increased vigilance from Congress to protect America’s cybersecurity.

Individuals without the benefit of advanced IT services are perpetually vulnerable to malicious online Ransomware gangs and escalating numbers of adware variants. These threats have shown to have significant financial and security implications for those impacted.

United States Congress c. 1915

But despite the frequent meetings discussing threats to classified data and the nation’s overall cybersecurity that are attended by members of Congress, an investigation conducted by States Newsroom recently revealed that 32 members of Congress – 31 Democrats and 1 independent – were using the popular social media app TikTok as of early January.

Given the possible data security risks posed by the use TikTok, it is concerning that legislators carry the app on their personal devices. In China, where TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is based, laws grant the government access to any data the company holds. This may potentially put American security at risk as members of congress may allow their data to be vulnerable to foreign entities.

About half of the Congress members reported to have TikTok accounts as of early January have either previously held or still currently hold positions in congressional committees that are responsible for handling matters that include foreign affairs, military matters, or national security.

Some of the more notable congressional TikTokers include Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). In Senator Booker’s case, his appointment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee likely gives him access to extremely sensitive information.

TikTok collects location data, contacts, browsing histories.

Furthermore can be used to track the movements of US officials. This may potentially expose them to extortion schemes, posing a possible threat to national security.

In the past, the US Government also had security issues related to the use of Kaspersky security software on government networks. Russia, much like China, also has laws in place that allow the government to commandeer the data held by entities doing business within their borders. 

But in 2017, then-president Donald Trump signed legislation that banned the use of Kaspersky products within the government. At the time, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who led calls in Congress to scrub the software from government computers said; “The case against Kaspersky is well-documented and deeply concerning. This law is long overdue,”

Elected officials should know better. Perhaps the fact that the TikTok news is just starting to become picked up by the media will lead these officials to delete the app. But the fact that it would take this kind of public shaming should be disconcerting to American voters; who have seen issues related to the protection of classified information surface across party lines.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, focuses on cybersecurity and politics. In addition, published on many of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world.

Why are US Legislators Still Using Apps That Can Collect Data for Foreign Governments?

Cyber Security and Hacking