Former Trump official calls TikTok a ‘digital virus’

Written by on March 21, 2023

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — TikTok is facing growing scrutiny from government officials over cybersecurity fears about Americans’ data. U.S. officials are reportedly demanding that Chinese owners sell its stake in the app or risk a nationwide ban.

Later this week, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to face questions from congressional lawmakers about the platforms’ data security practices and relationship with the Chinese government. Meanwhile, a proposed bill with bipartisan support and backed by President Joe Biden would empower the executive branch to ban TikTok and other apps owned by Chinese companies.

Former Under Secretary of State Keith Krach, who worked to crack down on TikTok under the Trump administration, joined “GMA3” hosts DeMarco Morgan and Eva Pilgrim to discuss why he views the app as a major cybersecurity threat.

PILGRIM: You believe TikTok is a national security threat. What concerns you the most?

KRACH: Well, I think the biggest thing is that TikTok can track keystrokes. Here’s what that means. That means that they have access to your passwords, all your data. They have access to your health records, your bank records. They have access to your geopolitical information or your geospatial information. That means that they can track where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. But I think one of the things that’s worse is that it’s not just about you. It’s about the people you digitally interact with. So look at it as a digital virus, because it can infect the people around you. And the only vaccine for this is a total ban.

MORGAN: Well, Keith, experts have called a potential TikTok ban unchartered territory. They’ve been talking about this for quite some time and a huge undertaking. And experts say a nationwide ban may not stop the app from collecting Americans’ data. How exactly would one work? And how concerned are you that Americans would be able to get around a ban?

KRACH: You know, it’s actually not unprecedented. We did the same thing with Huawei and 5G. And if you look at Huawei and 5G, that’s the backbone for the surveillance state, and TikTok is one of those key appendages that comes off of that. So right now in Congress, Sen. Warner, Sen. Thune, have a bill, the Restrict Act, that actually gives the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, the authority to ban applications, technology from our adversaries.

PILGRIM: A bipartisan bill to give the president power to ban the app is gaining support in the Senate. You’ve discussed TikTok concerns with members of Congress and the Biden administration. But how real of a possibility is this? What are you hearing from them?

KRACH: Oh, this is certainly real. You know, I can tell you, as undersecretary, I had a lot of closed-door sessions with Congress. I couldn’t tell the difference between a Democrat and Republican when it came to Chinese technology. You know, this is our biggest national security threat. And I can tell you, if they can weaponize a balloon, they can certainly weaponize 150 million American TikTok users at their mercy.

MORGAN: So with that said, what’s your response to critics of this ban, including the ACLU, who argue it would limit free speech and violate the First Amendment?

KRACH: Look, I’m all for free speech. A big advocate for that. But the fact is, TikTok limits free speech. If you don’t believe me, just try to post something on Tiananmen Square or post something on Taiwan, and you’ll see what happens. You know, the other thing, too, is that TikTok has been used to limit freedom of the press. I was just talking to a reporter yesterday from the Financial Times, and she shared with me how TikTok, they actually use TikTok to track down one of their journalists and try to intimidate him writing an unflattering story about China.

PILGRIM: One of the thing a lot of parents talk about when it comes to TikTok and social media. According to recent CDC data, nearly one in three high school girls considered attempting suicide in 2021, up nearly 60% from a decade before. And now schools across the country are suing social media companies for allegedly contributing to the youth mental health crisis. TikTok says they prioritize safety and wellbeing of teens with age-restricted features, screen time limits and parental controls. But my question to you, what can Silicon Valley do to better protect our kids?

KRACH: Yeah. You know, Eva, I’ve got 11-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. So obviously, this is a big issue. You know, there’s social media and then there’s TikTok. TikTok is programed to be addictive. It preys actually on children. It’s kind of disguised as candy, but it’s actually cocaine. And this is one of the big things. If you look at how TikTok is actually being used inside of China– I’m not talking outside of China– they use it as an educational app for STEM, for science, technology, engineering and math. So there’s two big differences there. And TikTok is by far the worst.

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