US government regulators reportedly tried to come to an agreement with TikTok to prevent banning the app that would have granted the federal government vast powers over the app. That’s according to a draft of a deal between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) obtained by Forbes, a contract that would have given multiple US agencies unprecedented access into the app’s records and operations. Many of the concessions the government asked of TikTok look eerily similar to the surveillance tactics critics have accused Chinese officials of abusing. To allay fears the short-form video app could be used as a Chinese surveillance tool, the federal government nearly transformed it into an American one instead.
Forbes reports that the draft agreement, dated Summer 2022, would have given the US government agencies like the Department of Justice and Department of Defense far more access to TikTok’s operations than that of any other social media company. The agreement would let agencies examine TikTok’s US facilities, records, and servers with minimal prior notice and veto the hiring of any executive involved with leading TikTok US data security organization. It would also let US agencies block changes to the app’s terms of service in the US and order the company to subject itself to various audits, all on TikTok’s dime, per Forbes. In extreme cases, the agreement would allow government organizations to demand TikTok temporarily shut off functioning in the US.
CFIUS did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. TikTok would not confirm or deny the draft agreement but instead sent us this statement.
“As has been widely reported, we’ve been working with CFIUS for well over a year to implement a national security agreement and have invested significant resources in implementing a firewall to isolate U.S. user data,” a TikTok spokesperson said. “Today, all new protected U.S. user data is stored in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in the U.S. with tightly controlled and monitored gateways. We are doing more than any peer company to safeguard U.S. national security interests.”
The draft document, which Gizmodo could not independently verify, is reportedly around 100 pages long and contains comments sent between attorneys representing ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company, and CFIUS. The agreements, if accepted as written at the time, would open TikTok’s US operations up to supervision by a number of external third-party auditors and source code inspectors. ByteDance leaders, whom US lawmakers and whistleblowers have accused of maintaining close connections with The Chinese Communist Party, would be excluded from some security-related decisions involving the US version of the app.