Some IRS employees still access TikTok despite ban on government devices | Tech Crunch

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The TikTok ban on US government devices has been difficult to enforce. A month after the IRS found that it was not complying with a federally mandated ban on a Beijing-based video app, two Republican senators are asking the IRS why and what it is allowing some employees of the agency to access the social network. That means protecting Americans' IRS data.

The letter announced today was sent to the IRS on Thursday by US Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the Subcommittee on Taxation and Oversight of the IRS, and Ranking Member John Thune (RS.D.). Subcommittee on Taxation and Oversight of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In it, they pressed the IRS to respond to questions about why the ban was not upheld, suggesting that the confidential nature of taxpayer data could be compromised by TikTok's data collection practices.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported today that TikTok employees still sometimes share data with its China-based parent company ByteDance, despite an operation code-named “Project Texas” implemented by TikTok to keep US user data on Oracle servers in the states. That initiative is designed to convince the US government that US user data is safe. Instead, the WSJ found that administrators sometimes direct employees at TikTok to share data with others through unofficial channels, including private data such as a user's email, date of birth or IP address.

The timing of the report on TikTok's IRS use raises concerns among lawmakers that TikTok's US user data is not as protected as it once hoped. It also demonstrates how unenforceable such bans can be amid US government bureaucracy and red tape, giving all Americans a preview of what it would be like to implement such a ban at the federal level — a move few politicians in both parties believe would be possible. As it happens.

As for the IRS, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) last month found that employees of the IRS's Criminal Investigation Unit can still access TikTok on their computers and mobile devices, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in its February 2023 “TikTok on Government Devices” report. No” issued the guideline. The IRS did not ask the Criminal Investigation Department to waive the ban through official channels, nor did it cut off employees' access to TikTok. The report said.

The IRS countered that the exemption was not necessary because the TikTok app was only used by third-party software — in other words, their devices did not connect directly to TikTok. It also pushed back on the idea that the chief of the criminal investigation division would come up with a plan to completely curtail employee access to the app, saying it uses its own internal process to identify exceptions. In total, 2,800 mobile devices in the division were found to be able to access TikTok, TGTA said.

Elsewhere, the IRS largely followed the ban. When TIGTA discovered that TikTok was being accessed on 23 phones used by employees of the Communications and Liaison Group, which oversees social media, they were cut off from the app. The agency also said it will update its “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy guidance to accommodate the ban by October 2024.

In the senators' letter to TikTok, they pressed the IRS over its delay in implementing a ban on its BYOD program and exemption for criminal investigation personnel, saying, “Not only has the IRS failed to comply with the law, its failure to comply with the law is a clear indication of the secret taxpayers on devices owned by TikTok, which has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and its appalling data practices.” The move is likely to compromise the implementation of the No TikTok Act on government devices.

The letter asks the IRS to respond to a series of questions by February 8, 2024. These include questions about how many IRS employees use their own devices, and how many access TikTok with the same devices they use for IRS-related functions. and what security protocols IRS employees must follow to protect taxpayer data, among other things. The senators also want to know whether the IRS removed TikTok from the criminal investigation mobile devices and why they needed it in the first place.

TikTok was asked for a comment, but did not provide one by the time of publication.

The IRS is just one aspect of the US TikTok ban on government devices, which last February gave government agencies 30 days to ensure their employees' phones and computers don't have the app. The order follows similar bans from dozens of US states and others from outside the US, including the EU, Canada, India and more. However, many bans are being challenged in the courts. For example, Montana's ban on TikTok is now on hold, a federal judge ruled last month.

Letter to Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service Daniel Werfel via TechCrunch at Scribed

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