WASHINGTON — The Justice Department and FBI are investigating TikTok and its parent company ByteDance, including previously disclosed allegations that the company’s employees spied on journalists, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said Friday. of the case.
The investigation is being led by Justice Department prosecutors in Washington and the Eastern District of Virginia, as well as the FBI, officials said.
The DOJ and FBI declined to comment.
In response, a ByteDance spokesperson told NBC, “We have strongly condemned the actions of those involved, and they are no longer employed by ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing and we will cooperate with any official investigation when we do. provided.”
News of the probe was first reported on Thursday by Forbes, who said employees involved in the surveillance were fired after it was confirmed they were trying to find the sources of the leaks to reporters inside the company. A ByteDance investigation found that employees had gained access to the IP addresses and other data of journalists and some of their logged-in contacts through their TikTok accounts, Forbes reported.
The federal investigation into ByteDance comes as concerns over security threats to Americans linked to TikTok have intensified this week. The Biden administration has threatened to ban the popular social media app in the United States if its Chinese owners refuse to sell their shares, a source familiar with the company told NBC News on Thursday. It came after US intelligence officials expressed concern that China could use TikTok to spy on Americans or sway US public opinion.
Asked about the message the White House is sending to TikTok users in the United States, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday: “We have expressed concerns about China’s potential use of platforms. -software forms that could endanger or threaten the security of the United States and its national security.. So that is the concern of the President. That is why we have asked Congress to act.
Jean-Pierre reiterated that a group of federal agencies are currently conducting a review of TikTok’s software.
Biden supports the legislation introduced earlier this month by a bipartisan group of senators that would allow the federal government to regulate and ban foreign-produced technology, including TikTok.
The law project would give the Secretary of Commerce the power to regulate technology produced by six countries that have contentious relations with the United States: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
On Capitol Hill, there’s an appetite to fix the problem, though it’s unclear how far lawmakers are willing to go.
When asked on Friday if he thinks TikTok poses a national security risk, Chairman Kevin McCarthy replied, “Yes.”