GOP Senators press Biden admin on enforcement of Trump presidential order on TikTok

ByteDance has reportedly had access to American users’ data for months, despite US employees not having had access themselves

A group of Republican Senators led by Tom Cotton is demanding answers from the Biden administration on how it is enforcing a Trump-era executive order that targeted ByteDance, the Chinese parent company behind TikTok. 

In a Thursday letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the lawmakers asked why the Biden administration has been seemingly dragging its foot on the "national security and privacy risks posed by TikTok." 

TikTok Logo

FILE: TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

Their letter came just days after a report that ByteDance has had access to American users’ data for months, even while U.S. employees did not have access themselves. 

Former President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O. 13942) on August 6, 2020, restricting the use of TikTok in the U.S. over privacy concerns – particularly for federal employees and contractors. ByteDance retaliated by suing in federal court and secured a preliminary injunction that halted a pending prohibition against downloading the TikTok app. 


Trump issued an additional Presidential Order on August 14, 2020, directing ByteDance to divest its American assets and destroy any data it acquired through TikTok. The order argued that ByteDance’s acquisition of, a video-sharing social media platform, threatened to "impair the national security of the United States." 

President Biden revoked Trump’s first executive order and ordered security reviews of TikTok and similar apps developed by foreign adversaries. The following month, the Biden administration petitioned to dismiss ongoing federal litigation against ByteDance but allowed Trump’s August 14 Presidential Order to remain in place. 

TikTok logo

In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"The Biden Administration has seemingly done nothing to enforce the August 14 order nearly two years since its promulgation," the senators said. "The results of the security reviews, likewise, have not been publicly released after one year." 

TikTok recently announced it has started routing American users’ data to U.S.-based servers owned by Oracle to address privacy concerns. But the senators argued such an arrangement would "do little to address the core security concerns that motivated (Trump’s) August 14 order." 

"That order was not simply concerned about data, but about a Chinese company’s ownership of a social media platform in America," the senators wrote. "If the Biden administration focuses solely on data storage and integrity to the exclusion of the critical issue of ByteDance’s ownership, control, and influence of TikTok, serious security risks will remain and the August 14 order will go unenforced." 

Their letter ended with a request that the Treasury Department, no later than July 22, answer a series of questions on how Trump’s August 14 Presidential Order is or is not being enforced. 


The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Todd Young and Mike Braun of Indiana.