What’s Next for TikTok in the U.S.: A Look at the State and Federal Policy Landscape
Over 25 states and the federal government have prohibited TikTok and other digital apps on official government devices.
TikTok, the popular social media app owned by Chinese mega conglomerate ByteDance, is increasingly impossible to escape in the American zeitgeist. The app is on a meteoric rise in the United States, consistently topping the charts across U.S. app stores and currently boasting over 150 million monthly active American users, up from 100 million in 2020.
Unlike U.S.-based social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn, which are subject to U.S. law and the U.S. judicial system, TikTok’s foreign ownership and possible entanglements with Chinese government intelligence agencies and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) present unique challenges for American lawmakers.
Many U.S. officials are concerned about TikTok’s potential threat to national security. Policymakers have proposed many different solutions, from granting the Biden Administration new authority to ban TikTok and similar apps on national security grounds, to forcing a sale or divestiture of the company (which now seems to be a less viable solution), to prohibiting government agencies from using TikTok on government-issued devices and networks.
Federal Lawmakers Press TikTok’s CEO on CCP Ties, Privacy Concerns
In a rare demonstration of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, members of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, led by Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, grilled TikTok CEO Shou Chew in a marathon 4-hour hearing. Lawmakers covered a wide range of issues, primarily analyzing the tangled web tying the U.S. TikTok app to its parent company, ByteDance, and the Chinese government.
Members of Congress also zeroed in on TikTok’s data collection practices, debated the TikTok algorithm’s addictive design and impact on children’s mental health, and called for a unified U.S. data privacy law as a remedy to such concerns.
In his testimony, Chew made the case that the TikTok platform has been a positive force, helping millions of Americans express themselves, connect with their peers (especially throughout the pandemic), and support small businesses and independent communities who depend on TikTok to reach their audiences. He also refuted the claim that TikTok is beholden to the Chinese government and touted the company’s efforts to be a “responsible steward of user data.”
Chair Rodgers, however, made her position clear: “TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location, to what they type and copy, who they talk to, biometric data, and more. TikTok surveils us all, and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. Your platform should be banned.”
Despite Consensus Among House Committee Members on TikTok’s Potential Threats, the Path Forward Remains Uncertain
President Biden and key Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have now called for an outright ban of the TikTok app in the United States, going beyond Congress’ more limited TikTok ban on federal government devices and networks enacted in the December 2022 omnibus spending bill. Although the federal government and over 25 state governments have taken this step to eliminate TikTok from official government devices, there are currently no such restrictions preventing private citizens from using TikTok on personal devices.
Some opponents to a widespread ban on TikTok highlight the potential First Amendment violations involved should the federal government ban an entire speech platform, let alone one of the top social media platforms in the U.S. by usage.
Advocates of limited government and free markets should take pause and consider the consequences of granting the Biden Administration and subsequent presidents sweeping new powers over the digital speech domain. Some argue there is a significant risk of inadvertently encompassing other apps or telecommunications services beyond TikTok and ByteDance should legislators adopt overly broad language in new regulations.
Nevertheless, at the federal level, several Members of Congress have introduced a variety of different legislative proposals to restrict TikTok and other foreign-owned apps in some form, including: The RESTRICT Act, The No TikTok on United States Devices Act, The DATA Act, and The ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act.
Beyond these measures, Members of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce have used this TikTok momentum to reinvigorate their stalled effort in the previous Congress to pass a federal data privacy law, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, or specific child privacy legislation such as the Kids Online Safety Act.
State Governments Are Moving Ahead with New Restrictions on Chinese Apps
Meanwhile, at the state level, many governors, state agency heads, and state legislators are taking matters into their own hands by restricting TikTok—and in some cases, additional apps and technology vendors—from state-owned devices and state networks.
Employers – whether government or private – are free to determine whether their employees are allowed to use an app on company or government devices and networks. Restrictions might be justified based on privacy, security, or just to avoid having employees using company assets for private purposes. And that’s precisely what many state governments have done.
The following is a list of states that have taken steps to restrict TikTok in some form. Some governors opted to enact formal executive orders, while others utilized existing authority to direct agencies to implement TikTok bans across government agencies. Some state legislatures have even enacted new laws combatting TikTok or have legislation pending this session to that effect.
Source: ALEC research, last updated March 31, 2023
- Alabama (Executive Action) – On December 12, 2022, Governor Kay Ivey issued a memorandum directing the State Secretary of Information Technology to prevent access to TikTok on state IT networks and state IT devices, while providing exceptions for law enforcement and “other essential governmental uses of the app.”
- Alaska (Executive Action) – On January 6, 2023, Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a memorandum directing all State Executive Branch agencies to prohibit the use of TikTok on all state-owned electronic devices and state networks, with exceptions for persons whose job duties include conducting administrative, civil, or criminal law enforcement or other investigations.
- Georgia (Executive Action) – On December 15, 2022, Governor Brian Kemp issued a memorandum directing all state executive branch agencies to prohibit the use of TikTok, WeChat, and Telegram—as well as all ByteDance products and Tencent Holdings products—on all state-owned devices or devices used for state business.
- Idaho (Legislative Action and Executive Order) – On March 24, 2023, the Idaho State Legislature passed and Governor Brad Little signed House Bill 274 into law. HB 20 prohibits all state government employees and contractors of the executive branch, state legislature, and the judiciary from downloading or using TikTok on state-issued devices and state networks. HB 20 specifically covers all state-funded agencies, departments, organizations, commissions, offices, divisions, boards, bureaus, councils, colleges, universities, administrations, corrections industries, the Idaho air national guard, Idaho army national guard, and Idaho state police (with exceptions for gathering military intelligence or criminal investigations by law enforcement), and any other division or subdivision funded in whole or in part through funds appropriated in the state budget. Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Prior to the passage of HB 20, on December 14, 2022, Governor Brad Little issued Executive Order No. 2022-06 prohibiting executive branch agencies, entities, officials, or employees of the State of Idaho to download or use TikTok on state-owned devices, equipment, and state networks. This also includes government contractors.
- Indiana (Executive Action) – On December 7, 2022, the Indiana Office of Technology blocked TikTok from being used on state networks and state devices. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has also filed two lawsuits against TikTok.
- Iowa (Executive Action) – On December 13, 2022, Governor Kim Reynolds issued a directive banning TikTok on all state-owned devices and prohibiting state agencies from subscribing to or owning a TikTok account.
- Kansas (Executive Order) – On December 28, 2022, Governor Laura Kelly issued Executive Order No. 22-10 prohibiting all executive branch entities and their employees from using TikTok on state-owned devices or on state networks. The Executive Order also encourages other statewide elected officials, independent boards and commissions, the Regents Universities, and the judicial and legislative branches to adopt comparable policies.
- Kentucky (Legislative Action) – On March 22, 2023, the Kentucky General Assembly passed and Governor Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 20 into law. SB 20 prohibits executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors, and Members of the Kentucky General Assembly and legislative agencies, staff, and contractors from downloading or using TikTok on any state networks or state-issued devices. The judicial branch of state government may implement controls to prohibit TikTok on judicial branch devices or networks. Exceptions to the ban include public postsecondary education institutions and executive branch agencies using TikTok for law enforcement activities, civil investigations or civil enforcement activities, and research on security practices or security threats without endangering the agency’s network.
- Louisiana (Limited Executive Action) – On December 19, 2022, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin banned TikTok on all Louisiana Department of State-issued devices and called on Governor John Bel Edwards to ban the use of TikTok on all state-issued devices.
- Maine (Executive Action) – On February 1, 2023, the State of Maine’s Office of Information Technology issued Cybersecurity Directive 2023-01 prohibiting the use of “covered technologies” on any state-issued or personal devices that connect to state equipment or systems. Currently, TikTok is the only named “covered technology” cited in the directive.
- Maryland (Executive Action) – On December 6, 2022, Governor Larry Hogan issued an emergency cybersecurity directive banning state agencies from using specific Chinese and Russian software and platforms providers, including ByteDance, Huawei, ZTE, Alibaba, WeChat, and Kaspersky.
- Montana (Executive Action) – On December 16, 2022, Governor Greg Gianforte issued a memorandum prohibiting state executive agencies, boards, commissions, entities, officials, and employees from downloading or accessing TikTok on state-issued devices or on state networks. This includes third party firms conducting business on behalf of the State of Montana. Exceptions for law enforcement and essential government uses must be reported to the Office of the Governor.
- Nebraska (Executive Action) – In August 2020, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that TikTok will be banned from devices owned by the State of Nebraska.
- New Hampshire (Executive Order) – On December 14, 2022, Governor Chris Sununu issued Executive Order 2022-09 prohibiting products from specified vendors from being used on state networks or state-issued devices across the executive branch. Named vendors include Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, Dahua Technology Company, Tencent Holdings (including but not limited to Tencent QQ, QQ Wallet, and WeChat), Alibaba, and TikTok.
- New Jersey (Executive Action) – On January 9, 2023, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness issued a directive to all state departments, agencies, commissions, boards, bodies, full-time and part-time employees, temporary workers, volunteers, interns, and contractors prohibiting the use of specified software vendors, products, and services that present an “unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk.” Named vendors include Huawei Technologies, Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd., Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd., Tencent Holdings (including but not limited to WeChat, QQ, QQ Wallet), Alibaba, Hytera, ZTE Corporation, ByteDance, and Kaspersky. The directive includes exceptions upon request for agencies using prohibited software for public health, safety, welfare, or other compelling state business.
- North Carolina (Executive Order) – On January 12, 2023, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 276 directing the North Carolina Chief Information Officer and Department of Information Technology to prohibit the use of TikTok and WeChat on state-issued devices or state IT systems. State agencies may obtain an exception for law enforcement or other “legitimate purposes” pursuant to the DIT.
- North Dakota (Executive Order) – On December 13, 2022, Governor Doug Burgum issued Executive Order 2022-10 prohibiting executive branch agencies and employees from downloading or using TikTok on state-issued equipment or on state networks.
- Ohio (Executive Order) – On January 8, 2023, Governor Mike DeWine issued Executive Order 2023-03D prohibiting all state agencies, boards, and commissions from downloading or using any social media application, channel, or platform that is owned by an entity located in China. Such applications and platforms include but are not limited to: TikTok, Tencent QQ, Tencent Video, QQ International, Qzone, WeChat, Weibo, Xiao HongShu, Zhihu, Meituan, Toutiao, Alipay, Xiami Music, Tiantian Music, DingTalk / Ding Ding, Douban, RenRen, Youku / Tudou, Little Red Book, and Zhihu. The Executive Order is set to expire ten days after Governor DeWine’s last day in office unless rescinded before then.
- Oklahoma (Executive Order) – On December 8, 2022, Governor Kevin Stitt issued Executive Order 2022-33 prohibiting executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors from downloading or using TikTok on state-issued devices or on state networks.
- Pennsylvania (Limited Executive Action) – On December 22, 2022, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity issued a directive prohibiting TikTok on all Treasury-issued devices and the Treasury’s firewall was updated to block access to the TikTok app and website on its network.
- South Dakota (Executive Order) – On November 29, 2022, Governor Kristi Noem issued Executive Order 2022-10 prohibiting executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors from downloading or using TikTok on state-issued devices or state-owned equipment.
- South Carolina (Executive Action) – On December 5, 2022, Governor Henry McMaster directed the South Carolina Department of Administration to prohibiting TikTok from all state government devices managed by the Department of Administration.
- Tennessee (Legislative Action and Executive Action) – On March 23, 2023, the Tennessee General Assembly passed Senate Bill 834 and is pending action from Governor Bill Lee. If enacted, SB 834 would prohibit public universities that provide internet access from allowing students, faculty, staff, or the general public to access a social media platform operated or hosted by a company based in the People’s Republic of China on the university’s network. This restriction does not apply to employees using such a social media platform necessary for law enforcement activities, enforcement, investigative, or public safety purposes.
- Previously, on December 10, 2022, Governor Bill Lee directed state agencies to take steps to block access to TikTok on any personal or state-owned device that connects to the state’s network.
- Texas (Executive Action) – On December 7, 2022, Governor Greg Abbott directed all state agencies and employees to prohibit downloading or using TikTok on any state-issued devices. Agency heads may grant exceptions for law enforcement investigations and other “legitimate uses” of TikTok on state-issued devices.
- On January 26, 2023, Governor Abbott released a statewide Model Security Plan for Prohibited Technologies clarifying more details about the restrictions for state personnel and including a new list of prohibited hardware and software vendors, including: TikTok, Kaspersky, ByteDance, Tencent, Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, VMate, WeChat, WeChat Pay, WPS Office, Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, Dahua Technology Company, SZ DJI Technology Company, and Hytera Communications Corporation.
- Utah (Executive Order) – On December 12, 2022, Governor Spencer Cox issued Executive Order 2022-06 prohibiting executive branch agencies and employees from downloading or using TikTok on any state devices and agencies may not maintain an agency-branded or agency-sponsored TikTok account. Agency heads may grant exceptions to enable administrative, civil, and criminal law enforcement investigations.
- Vermont (Executive Action) – On February 16, 2023, Vermont Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Shawn Nailor issued Cybersecurity Standard Update 2023-01, which takes the following actions: 1) Prohibits the acquisition or renewal of any contract for Kaspersky-branded products; 2) Prohibits the acquisition or renewal of any contract for equipment manufactured by the following vendors: Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corporation, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, and Dahua Technology Company; 3) Prohibits the acquisition or renewal of any contract for equipment the U.S. Secretary of Defense has identified as an entity owned or controlled by the government of a covered foreign country pursuant to U.S. Public Law 115-232 Section 889; 4) Prohibits executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors from downloading or using TikTok on any state devices and prohibiting agencies from maintaining an agency-branded TikTok account; 5) Prohibits executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors from downloading or using WeChat or services from Tencent Holdings; 6) Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis by the Secretary of Digital Services and for law enforcement activities, national security interests and actions, cybersecurity research, and state emergency incident response.
- Virginia (Legislative Action and Executive Order) – On February 23, 2023, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1459 and is pending action from Governor Glenn Youngkin. If enacted, SB 1459 would require the Chief Information Officer to restrict the ability to download or use prohibited applications and websites on government-issued devices and government networks for employees, agents, and contractors the Commonwealth of Virginia’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and independent agencies. The Superintendent of State Police or chief law enforcement officer of the appropriate county or city may grant an exception for any law enforcement-related matters. SB 1459 includes the following services in its definition of prohibited applications: ByteDance Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd., TikTok, and WeChat.
- Previously, on December 16, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin issued Executive Order Number 24 (2022) prohibiting executive branch agencies, employees, and contractors from downloading or using TikTok, WeChat, or any other applications developed by ByteDance or Tencent Holdings on state-issued devices or state networks, with an exception for public safety purposes.
- West Virginia (Limited Executive Action) – On December 19, 2022, West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey prohibited TikTok on state devices and state networks associated with the Auditor’s Office.
- Wisconsin (Executive Order) – On January 11, 2023, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #184 prohibiting executive branch agencies certain vendors and software on state-issued devices or state networks. The following vendors are prohibited: TikTok, Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, Dashua Technology Company, Tencent Holdings, Alibaba, and Kaspersky.
- Wyoming (Executive Action) – On December 15, 2022, Governor Mark Gordon issued a memorandum directing all executive agencies to prohibit the use of TikTok on state-issued devices and state networks, with the possibility to grant exceptions for law enforcement investigations and other uses as needed.