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TikTok ‘absolutely not’ a U.S. security risk, says top executive

The social media giant TikTok has sued the U.S. government for threatening to ban the company from the country. The Trump administration’s targeting of the video-sharing platform is part of a larger effort to confront what the U.S. says are national security threats posed by Chinese technology. Nick Schifrin reports and talks to TikTok’s chief security officer, Roland Cloutier.

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  • Stephanie Sy:

    Yesterday the social media giant TikTok sued the U.S. government for threatening to ban the company. The Trump administration's targeting of TikTok is part of a larger effort to confront what it considers threats posed by Chinese technology.

    Nick Schifrin interviews TikTok's chief security officer and explains how we got here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When President Trump acknowledged he would ban TikTok…

  • President Donald Trump:

    We are looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things. There are a couple of options.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … comedian Sarah Cooper mocked him, and got millions of views.

  • President Donald Trump:

    So, we will see what happens.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That satire is one the real reasons the Trump administration is threatening to ban TikTok, the company alleges in its lawsuit. It accuses President Trump of depriving TikTok due process and abusing his authority in an executive order that banned all transactions with TikTok.

  • Man:

    Some see this glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty, but I see it as a piece of cake.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    TikTok's combined fancy editing with music to gain 100 million American users. The U.S. government says, behind all the fun and games, TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, can censor speech Beijing doesn't like and steal users' data for the Chinese government, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told Newsmax.

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo:

    This isn't as innocent as it appears. This is the Chinese Communist Party using data sets for purposes of their national — their own national security.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The White House gave ByteDance a mid-September deadline to sell. And, today Microsoft, as well as Oracle, are in talks to buy TikTok's U.S. operation, even as TikTok pursues its lawsuit.

    Before it was filed, I sat down with TikTok global chief security officer Roland Cloutier, who spent 15 years as chief security officer for U.S. companies, and, before that, a decade in the U.S. government.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    The White House says that TikTok represents a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy and the U.S. economy. Does it?

  • Roland Cloutier:

    Absolutely not, Nick.

    We allow a community of users to express themselves, enjoy another, have — and have families actually be together on a technology that is all about sharing and all about sharing their lives together. So, we're not in any way a threat to national security.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, we had him on the show last month, and here's what he said:

  • John Demers:

    There's a lot of data that is being collected on U.S. persons that we're concerned about, because we have seen the Chinese acquire, either through theft or through attempted acquisitions, large quantities of sensitive personal data.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Where does Americans' data who use TikTok go?

  • Roland Cloutier:

    The United States is predominantly where it is housed of, and, for high availability and backup reasons, there's an operating platform in Singapore. That's it.

    It doesn't go anywhere else. The Chinese government hasn't asked for it. We wouldn't give it to them if they did.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is a 2017 law, the national intelligence law, that says any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.

    Of course, there's no independent judiciary in China for ByteDance, your parent company, to appeal to. Doesn't that mean that you would have to share the data if the Chinese government asked for it?

  • Roland Cloutier:

    The Chinese government would have to actually ask the U.S. government for U.S. data. That's simply the way it works.

    And, in fact, they would have to go through the U.S. Department of Justice, get subpoenas and warrants through the FBI, to request it from us before we could do that. And, ultimately, I would have to grant access to that information. So the answer is, no, they couldn't simply ask for it, have someone go and take it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    TikTok whistle-blowers have said employees have taken down videos about topics that are sensitive to Beijing, the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as an example, or even criticism of political leaders or their families.

    Does the company remove videos with speech that Beijing doesn't like?

  • Roland Cloutier:

    We are not the go-to platform for robust political debates at all.

    We deploy a combination of technologies and people in region to protect the community from harmful misinformation, hate speech, and harassment. But we are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It doesn't sound like you are agreeing with the notion of my question, but it also doesn't sound like you're saying that that doesn't happen.

    So does there exist a means by which Beijing can censor TikTok users, if those TikTok users, even while dancing or singing, actually discuss topics that Beijing doesn't like?

  • Roland Cloutier:

    Absolutely not.

    There is absolutely no connection or capability for any government, including China, to do that at all. And if any commentary on the platform that is protected by law within the regions that we serve stay within our guidelines, meaning no disinformation, no hateful or violent content, no explicit sexual content, no crimes against children, things of that nature, they won't be moderated out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Roland Cloutier, the global chief security officer for TikTok, thank you very much.

  • Roland Cloutier:

    Thank you.

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