Hobbs bans TikTok from state work devices

Hobbs bans TikTok from state work devices

TikTok, social media, Hobbs
Popular social media app TikTok must be removed from devices used for official state business, Gov. Katie Hobbs said in an executive order announced on March 5, 2023. The ban takes effect in 30 days and mirrors orders around the state and country to remove the Chinese-owned video app due to data privacy concerns. (Photo by Pexels)

Popular social media app TikTok has to go from devices used for official state business, Gov. Katie Hobbs said in an executive order announced on Wednesday afternoon.

The ban takes effect in 30 days and mirrors orders around the state and country to remove the Chinese-owned video app over data privacy concerns. The governor’s office announced the move in a news release dated April 5, but a copy of the executive order indicated the governor signed it on April 4.

“This is a necessary step to ensure the protection of state data and reflects our commitment to keeping Arizonans safe. My office is working closely with state entities to ensure this transition happens smoothly,” Hobbs said in an emailed statement.

Concerns around the app are connected to ByteDance, the company that owns the program, and Chinese laws that can give that nation’s government access to information held by businesses in its territory. In the order, Hobbs also cited “the application’s potential to spread misinformation and propaganda” as another reason for the ban.

The order applies to most state agencies and departments, and at least two state departments that are exempt from the order have said they’re moving ahead with their own TikTok ban. And it explicitly applies not only to state-owned devices like official work phones or laptops, but any “personal device” used for state business, including things like accessing the state email system.

Hobbs’ order charges the Arizona Department of Administration with handling the finer points of enforcement, like coming up with progressive discipline for any violations and, along with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, reviewing requests for exceptions to the rule.

A spokeswoman for the ADOA didn’t immediately reply to questions about how it would enforce the ban, particularly on personal devices.

The move to ban the app comes as it has faced tough scrutiny at the federal level.

Last month, a TikTok executive faced tough questioning in a congressional hearing. And in late February, President Joe Biden told federal agencies and contractors to remove the app from devices within 30 days. (Two years earlier, Biden had reversed an earlier attempt to ban the app.)

Arizona’s three major universities – Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University – are all public institutions and have all banned the app from university-managed devices, citing Biden’s order.

The governor’s move even drew plaudits from frequent critics. Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said it’s “a step in the right direction,” though he still took the opportunity to criticize the governor for her policies on other issues including the border.

Kern is a member of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus, which has complained about Hobbs’ use of executive orders. In January, the group said it would file a lawsuit against the governor over her use of executive orders, but in the end a lawsuit never materialized.

The governor’s order exempts departments including the Corporation Commission and “state departments that are headed by a single elected state official” – a category that includes the Attorney General’s Office, Department of Education and Treasury – from its mandate. But some of them are banning the app themselves.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Kris Mayes issued a ban on TikTok for devices owned by the AG’s Office. Mayes and Hobbs have moved in lockstep on executive actions in the past.

“Data security is paramount, especially for government agencies that handle sensitive information. We cannot risk the potential exposure of our data to foreign entities,” the Attorney General said in a news release announcing the move on Wednesday morning.

The precise wording of the AG’s measure was slightly different from the governor’s – it bans the app on AGO-owned devices including computers, phones and tables, but doesn’t specifically apply to personal devices that are used for AGO business.

Doug Nick, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said in a phone interview that ADE will issue an advisory to its staff later this week to avoid using TikTok on state devices.

“If they’re doing state business through a personal device, then then we would urge them not to use TikTok during that activity,” he added.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment but did indicate that the Secretary’s office was looking into the issue. A spokeswoman for the Treasury didn’t answer a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.