AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott instructed state agencies to ban the use of TikTok on government-issued devices in December 2022, joining at least 22 other states and Congress in enacting similar bans, amid an increase in national security concerns surrounding the platform.
In the wake of Abbott’s instruction, a number of public universities, including West Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin, implemented TikTok bans on all university-owned devices. In February, Abbott also released a statewide model security plan for Texas state agencies focused on addressing security concerns and vulnerabilities related to TikTok and other software on personal and state-issued devices.
As noted in previous reports on MyHighPlains.com, these guidelines and policies come after warnings from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Communications Commission, which said that TikTok user data could be shared by owner ByteDance Ltd. with China’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials have also worried that the Chinese government might use TikTok to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.
As government agencies and other entities implement the Texas TikTok bans and security policies, many may wonder about who will be impacted and how.
Who has to uninstall TikTok? When?
According to the published model security plan released at the end of January, the TikTok ban will affect “all state agencies and institutions of higher education (IHEs),” including their employees, contractors, interns, or any users of state-owned networks.
Each state agency and IHE, according to the security plan and Abbott’s directive, had until Feb. 15 to implement its own policy to enforce the statewide plan. Each agency’s policy might vary, but is expected to meet certain objectives outlined in the security plan, including:
- Banning and preventing the download or use of TikTok and prohibited technologies on any state-issued device identified in the statewide plan, which must be strictly enforced by each agency’s IT department;
- Prohibiting employees or contractors from conducting state business on prohibited technology-enabled personal devices;
- Identifying sensitive locations, meetings, or personnel within an agency that could b exposed to prohibited technology-enabled personal devices and banning the entry or use of those devices in those sensitive areas;
- Implementing network-based restrictions to prevent the use of prohibited technologies on agency networks by any device; and
- Working with information security professionals to continuously update the list of prohibited technologies.
In practice, this means that any person who works for a state agency or an IHE like a state university, even contractors and interns, will need to uninstall TikTok from any device issued to them by their workplace. Further, an employee who uses a personal device that can use “prohibited technology,” like TikTok, will not be able to use that device to conduct state business, including “accessing any state-owned data, applications, email accounts, or non-public facing communications.” That means, for example, that an employee who uses a personal device for work that has access to TikTok will not be allowed to use that device to access things like a state email address, video conferencing, Texas.gov, or other state databases and apps.
The state outline detail on network-based restrictions could also mean that state agencies or IHEs will need to block access to banned services like TikTok on all agency technology infrastructures, like local networks, WAN, and VPN connections. For instance, that could manifest as an employee or student trying to connect to a university’s local network and being either unable to do so, or TikTok no longer working due to firewalls or management software.
What is a state-issued device? Are all of them impacted?
A state-issued device in this instance, as described in the statewide plan, would be a device issued to someone by a state agency or IHE that is capable of connecting to the internet. This includes agency-issued cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and others. In that case, the TikTok ban impacts things such as student-assigned tablets and laptops as well as something like a phone issued to a state auditor.
Do you have a phone or laptop given to you by your school or workplace? Is that school or workplace considered a state agency or an IHE? If so, you may have a state-issued device.
When does the ban go into effect?
In Texas, TikTok was banned on state networks and state-issued devices in December 2022. As a result, its services were blocked on devices and networks from impacted agencies, including schools like WTAMU, immediately after the governor’s order. The statewide security plan was subsequently released at the end of January to assist impacted agencies in designing and implementing their specific policies.
According to the governor’s order and the statewide plan, agencies were required to implement their security policies, including TikTok bans, by Feb. 15. However, as of Thursday, it was unclear how many impacted agencies met that deadline or had yet released full policy details.