News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Sens. Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer are concerned that TikTok, which launched in the U.S. last year, is "a potential target of foreign influence campaigns like those carried out during the 2016 election."

TikTok could open the door for Chinese election interference, senators warn

No one knows if social media phenomenon TikTok could allow China to meddle in the 2020 election, similar to Russia's attacks in the last presidential campaign. But two senators who are on the opposite sides of almost every issue want to find out.

The Chinese-owned video sharing app is rapidly increasing in popularity worldwide, especially among teenagers. It has been downloaded more than 110 million times in the United States alone. And just two weeks ago it said it was working to steer clear of the next election by banning all political advertising from its site.

Nonetheless, it has now become "is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore" in the view of the two senators, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and conservative Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

"The platform is also a potential target of foreign influence campaigns like those carried out during the 20I6 election on U.S.-based social media platforms," the pair wrote in a letter this week to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Cotton and Schumer called on the intelligence community to investigate what "national security risks," if any, are posed by TikTok and other Chinese-based content platforms and report those findings to Congress.

Despite TikTok's decision to keep all political candidate or issue advertising off its platform during the 2020 election cycle, there are other avenues that could allow for Chinese influence like the disinformation campaigns employed by Russia in 2016 on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The senators questioned TikTok's terms of service, saying the app collects a wide array of data, including information about a user's location, that could be accessed by the Chinese government and used in efforts to compromise the 2020 election.

Launched just two years ago by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, TikTok has created a global sensation by permitting users to share short videos. In a statement Thursday, the company asserted its independence from the government in Beijing, declared that all its U.S. users' data is stored in the United States and so is not "subject to Chinese law," and said it has "never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked."
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Election security efforts should be expanded to cover the vendors who provide the equipment and other systems used to record and count votes, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice. Here a Miami-Dade County election worker checks voting machines for accuracy.

Election equipment vendors should face more security oversight, report argues

Efforts to fend off election hackers in 2020 and beyond have revolved around protecting ballot equipment and the databases of registered voters. Little attention has been focused on the vendors and their employees.

But the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice is proposing that the vendors who make election equipment and related systems be subjected to heightened oversight and vetting, much like defense contractors or others involved in national security.

"There is almost no federal regulation of the vendors that design and maintain the systems that allow us to determine who can vote, how they vote, or how their votes are counted and reported," according to a new report from the nonpartisan policy institute.

Keep reading... Show less