N.J. banned TikTok on state phones. Why is the state’s TikTok account still active?

By: - March 8, 2023 7:06 am

When Gov. Phil Murphy banned TikTok from state-issued phones, an official cited the “high risk of potential data loss or privacy issues."

One of the videos posted on the state government’s TikTok account shows a golden retriever licking a box of Taylor ham.

Others share facts about horror movies filmed in the state, promote New Jersey’s cannabis industry, and share weather advisories. The account, with 61 videos and over 52,000 followers, also takes part in trends like local American Girl doll, and has gone viral for roasting Delaware at least twice.

The account remains active, even though Gov. Phil Murphy announced a cybersecurity directive banning the app — and other software deemed high-risk — from state devices in January. He said the prohibition will “ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and safety of information assets managed by New Jersey.”

In a statement to the New Jersey Monitor, a Murphy spokeswoman said state workers who need to use TikTok for state businesses can still use the app if they’re not connected to a secure state network. Agencies that want to use the app for “compelling” public interest reasons must submit a request to the state’s homeland security department for permission to use prohibited software.

“If agencies provide a compelling justification for their communications or outreach work, they may receive approval to use these software technologies or services on a device not connected to a secure state network,” said Natalie Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

People with exceptions are also given a risk mitigation plan, she said.

At the time of Murphy’s announcement, the governor cited vulnerability concerns about TikTok — owned by a China-based tech company — and said the directive is aimed at bad actors who “may seek to divide us.” State chief technology officer Christopher Rein said using TikTok could lead to a “high risk of potential data loss or privacy issues.”

Under the directive, New Jersey banned several other “high-risk software and services” products and vendors from Russian and Chinese companies, including Huawei Technologies, WeChat, and Alibaba. Rein said banning the apps on government phones was part of a statewide cyber risk management program.

Murphy’s order came as federal officials and at least 25 other state governments banned the popular video app over growing concerns that the Chinese government could be collecting user data. Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill in Congress that could lead to a nationwide ban on Tuesday, while considering several other measures to impose partial or full bans. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-05) this week appeared in Bergen County to push for the nationwide ban, saying TikTok collects data from its users and calling it “an enormous asset to the Chinese Communist party.”

Other foreign governments have also imposed TikTok bans on government devices, including the European Union and Canada.

TikTok has denied it’s a threat to national security, and it said it migrated U.S. user data to Oracle servers in Virginia amid the criticism.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.