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9 Mar, 2023 05:08

Michigan governor exempt from new TikTok ban

State officials have claimed the Chinese-owned video-sharing app could pose a threat to national security
Michigan governor exempt from new TikTok ban

Michigan has joined a growing number of states that have banned TikTok on government devices – but with some exceptions, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose popular account boasts nearly 200,000 followers.

State officials moved to ban the app earlier this month, though the decision was only confirmed on Wednesday by Michigan’s acting chief security officer, Jayson Cavendish, who told local reporters that TikTok has been “banned for state devices” since March 1.

Cavendish said the video-sharing application had been placed in a “monitored mode” back in 2020, which allowed official devices to access the site, but only after a security warning to discourage its use. TikTok is now blocked on web browsers, and though the stand-alone app can still be downloaded on state devices, it can no longer be opened.

The state government has left some exemptions for the new rule, however, allowing officials to use the app for law enforcement and “promotional” purposes, according to local media. That means Governor Whitmer – who makes near-daily TikTok posts to her more than 195,000 followers – will be permitted to continue using it.

The governor’s account has made several posts since the ban took effect, but officials maintain that she uses a secure device that has never been connected to government networks. 

“It’s a state of Michigan device, but it follows the guidelines that are in place for the exceptions. And the exceptions are for any department that feels that they need it for their job to convey with the public, or for investigative purposes,” said Whitmer’s spokesperson, Bobby Leddy. 

He added that so far, no other state agency has requested the same exemption that Whitmer’s office was granted.

The federal government and at least 25 state administrations have enacted similar bans on official devices, according to a tally by Yahoo Finance, with many prompted to take action after FBI Director Christopher Wray claimed the Chinese government could access data gathered by the app. A long line of state and federal officials have voiced similar privacy and national security concerns, among them Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which said it was reviewing possible “threats” linked to TikTok in December.

TikTok has rejected allegations that it passes data to the Chinese government, while Beijing insists the crackdown on the site across the US is merely an effort to “suppress foreign companies,” arguing that Washington “has been over-stretching the concept of national security and abusing state power” to target the popular video-sharing site, which boasts more than 1 billion monthly users worldwide.