DOJ looking into TikTok owner over surveillance of journalists: reports

The Justice Department (DOJ) is investigating the Chinese company that owns the video-sharing platform TikTok over the potential surveillance of journalists who cover technology, multiple outlets reported Friday. 

Three people familiar with the matter told The New York Times that the DOJ is investigating the company’s surveillance of U.S. citizens broadly, too. The Times reported that the probe seems to be related to the admission from ByteDance, which owns TikTok, in December that some of its employees inappropriately gained access to some U.S. citizens’ user data. 

Internal emails that the Times obtained showed the company conducted an internal investigation and found employees gained access to data from two journalists and people associated with them. Forbes reported following the Times’s report that two additional journalists that work for the outlet were also tracked. 

The employees were working as part of a monitoring program to try to find the source of leaks. All four employees involved in obtaining the data were fired. 

A person with knowledge of the situation told the Times for its Friday report that the DOJ’s criminal division, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia are conducting the investigation. 

A DOJ spokesperson told the Times that they had no comment on the report.

A spokesperson for TikTok referred the Times to ByteDance for questions.

A ByteDance spokesperson told The Hill that the company “strongly” condemns the actions of the employees who obtained the data on the journalists and are no longer working for the company.

“Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us,” they said.

Forbes also confirmed the investigation before the Times report. 

The Biden administration has recently been increasing pressure on TikTok following criticism of the app over concerns about the security of its U.S. users’ data on a platform run by a Chinese company. Critics have expressed worries that the data could be obtained by the Chinese government, while TikTok has insisted that the data is not at risk. 

The administration has told ByteDance that it must sell its stake in TikTok or the app could possibly be banned in the country. The app has been banned on devices owned by the federal government and more than two dozen state governments amid the backlash. 

Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to ban the app in the country entirely. 

Tags ByteDance Department of Justice surveillance tiktok

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