A Senate bill banning TikTok and other social media platforms on government devices was passed Tuesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Sen. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, one of the primary sponsors of S.B. 83, proposed an amendment to the measure that expands the ban to include all state schools, including universities. The amendment also adds a Russian product “Telegram” to the list of banned platforms, along with Chinese platforms TikTok and WeChat. The committee passed the bill with the amendment, and Moffitt called it an improvement over the original bill.
“We want to make sure that the foundation of what we’re attempting to do here is a very good foundation because I anticipate over time, as we identify more and more risks in the world of application and application development, that we’ll be adding to the list of applications that we do not want to have on our government-owned and controlled devices,” Moffitt said.
He referenced the national trend in states and the federal government introducing legislation to ban such social media platforms. Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting using TikTok and other platforms on state-issued technology last month.
“It was a very good executive order on his part regarding the areas that were under his purview,” Moffitt commented. “We have taken that executive order and the details of it, and we have broadened the applicability and improved upon it.”
The wording in the amendment applies to the executive branch areas under the governor’s purview, including the Council of State, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, local units of state government, public schools, and the university system, which includes the community colleges.
“There’s a reason we put that definition in there because all of these entities actually operate government owned devices, and we actually have government devices that are accessed by the general public at large,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt said they are working on issues regarding virtual private networks or VPN’s to ensure protection on government devices.
“What you do on your private device and what you do over your private network is your business, but when you’re using a public network with a private device, the firewall and the proxy settings on those devices will prevent the three named apps in this bill from being utilized over that traffic being over our networks,” he said. “You should be able to default to your private network to utilize those applications, but it’s important because as we’re discovering more and more avenues of data, I guess you could say as they’re gathering the data, we’re having difficulty managing the database.”
When comes to the information the state protects, Moffitt said the state owes it to the citizens to ensure that the information they share, including taxes, stays within their system and is not available to the public at large.
There are exceptions in the amendment for law enforcement and the state’s information technology specialists who need to access the platforms to do their jobs.
In committee questioning, a staff member of the Legislative Analysis Division told Sen. Val Applewhite, D-Cumberland, that to date there have not been any actual attacks on state systems.
“So, there’s no specific risk, and we have seemed to narrow this down to two products, Chinese and Russian?” she said. “We all know we have a whole lot of adversaries out there that have software. Are we considering adding them to this list or is it just Chinese and Russian?”
“I think over time, as we identify high risk applications, it’ll be easy to add them to the list,” Moffitt replied. “We’re keying off the information that we’re getting from other states as well as the federal government and helping identify what applications we need to be concerned about.”
Applewhite expressed concern about the ban because many schools are using TikTok in their lessons.
“There is a lot of data that shows that it’s very beneficial, particularly for our younger people with homework and research, so you know that’s where I’m trying to figure out if we’ve not any identified any specific risk, but we certainly see some of the rewards from it right now,” she said.
Sen. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, asked if there was any way to have regulations in place to avoid having the General Assembly come back to vote on new legislation in case a platform like TikTok shut down and came back under a new name. Moffitt replied, unfortunately, no.
“We actually contemplated that because I know over the years when it comes to drug enforcement policies that we’ve adopted at the General Assembly, once they changed the formulation, the laws that we just passed were no longer applicable,” he said. “So, we’re always going to be playing catch up. It’s the sad reality of lawmaking, but again getting the foundation in place, feeling comfortable that we’re as comprehensive as we can be on the front end allows for us to be pretty nimble in doing our job.”