Georgia senator files bill to restrict TikTok, other social media

A little more than a month after Gov. Brian Kemp instructed Georgia employees not to use social media such as TikTok or WeChat on state equipment, Republican senators have filed a bill to extend that restriction to schools and all branches of government.

Senate Bill 93 would put Kemp’s restrictions into law by prohibiting state employees in all branches of government and at all K-12 public schools from using any social media that are owned by governments deemed to be “foreign adversaries” on state-owned equipment. The legislation relies on the federal list of “foreign adversaries,” which includes China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Russia, and it would instruct the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to ensure the state’s list is up to date.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Jason Anavitarte of Dallas on Thursday filed the bill, which is co-sponsored by all 32 members of the chamber’s GOP caucus.

Anavitarte said he doesn’t expect his bill to be controversial. Legislators in Florida have filed similar legislation.

Anavitarte first announced his intent to file legislation targeting TikTok in December, saying that since TikTok’s parent company is based in Beijing and Chinese law requires businesses to share data with the country’s government, the social media app is unsecure.

“Numerous cybersecurity and national intelligence officials have identified TikTok as a significant espionage threat,” Anavitarte said. “The federal government is considering legislation that will ban TikTok nationwide, and we will do our part in Georgia.”

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

While no Democrats signed on to the legislation, it doesn’t immediately appear as though it will be challenged . Anavitarte’s counterpart, Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Elena Parent of Atlanta, said she applauded the Dallas Republican’s work to address the issue.

“The rise of TikTok is posing complicated and serious national security issues,” she said.

In December, Kemp issued an executive order that prohibits executive branch employees from using TikTok, WeChat and Telegram on laptops, mobile phones and other devices issued, owned, leased or otherwise controlled by the state or used for state business. Executive branch offices include those such as the departments of Defense, Economic Development, Public Health, Revenue and the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents.

Kemp’s order invoked concerns from the U.S. government that TikTok and WeChat data from the devices could be shared with the Chinese government. That ban also covers Telegram, a fast-growing messaging app that Kemp’s office said was included due to “past instances of security issues.”

The order included exceptions to the restrictions. State agencies can request an exemption to allow law enforcement investigations and “other legitimate business use,” according to guidance from the Georgia Technology Authority.

For instance, officials said the state’s universities and colleges, along with other state agencies, could seek an exception to continue using the apps as a recruiting tool to attract students and staffers.

SB 93 also would allow the social media platforms to be used in instances such as law enforcement investigations, cybersecurity research or judicial proceedings.

The bill does not list specific social media apps, but it would apply the ban to those run by any company that is directly or indirectly owned or operated by one of the banned countries, is headquartered in a banned country or is formed in a banned country.