Original Article By Ben Kesslen At NYPost.com:
The Justice Department is investigating claims that the Chinese company that owns TikTok has been spying on US tech journalists, according to a report Friday.
The probe into ByteDance stems from the company’s acknowledgment in December that employees had obtained data of US TikTok users, some of whom were reporters, the New York Times said.
Sources told the Times that the Justice Department, along with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, are looking into how ByteDance employees were able to access that data.
The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry from the Times or The Post, and the specific scope of the investigation is unclear.
The report comes as the Biden administration has pressured ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok or possibly face a nationwide ban amid increased scrutiny over its national security threat.
TikTok, which has more than 100 million US users, has been talking to potential buyers, sources told The Post this week.
ByteDance had been caught spying on journalists from Forbes magazine last year and admitted to the surveillance following an internal investigation.
Emily Baker-White, a journalist for the outlet, said Thursday that the FBI and DOJ were looking at the Chinese company’s surveillance of her.
Baker-White said the app’s owner used her TikTok account to track her location in an effort to find her sources.
After its internal investigation, ByteDance fired employee Chris Lepitak, who oversaw the team responsible for the surveillance, Forbes said.
TikTok condemned the spying publicly, saying the employees “misused” user data.
The social media app has insisted, however, that the ban wouldn’t solve the concerns of the US government.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said recently the app must be banned to protect national security interests.
“Literally 100 million Americans are on TikTok an average of 90 minutes a day. That data is residing in China no matter what TikTok says, and the truth is TikTok can be used as a propaganda mechanism for the Communist Party of China,” he said.
“That, I believe, is a national security concern,” he warned.