Customs agents have been grilling TikTok staff at US airports

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation

More than 30 TikTok employees have come under scrutiny from US immigration officials. The report from Forbes says that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been detaining and interrogating TikTok and ByteDance employees, asking reasons for their entry into the United States. Many of those workers happen to be Chinese nationals.

Customs agents interrogate over 30 TikTok employees at US airports

The questions have been tough, especially for those who specialize in machine learning or data engineering. CBP agents want to know about these workers’ access to US TikTok user data and the locations of the app’s American data centers. They’re also asking about Project Texas, a major effort to protect US user data from leaking by ByteDance’s Chinese staff.

Per The Verge’s report, some CBP inquiries are getting personal. Agents have asked some employees whether they affiliate with the Chinese Communist Party or what kind of schooling they received in China, among other questions about their background, according to Forbes. The agency even brings a set of pre-printed questions specifically made for TikTok and ByteDance employees.

Even the CEO of TikTok, Shou Chew, has not escaped interrogations. In congressional hearings earlier this year, Senator Tom Cotton repeatedly asked Chew about his CCP membership. Chew maintains in his congressional testimonies that US user data remains inside America and off-limit to ByteDance’s Chinese staff.

ByteDance’s access to US citizen data remains under scrutiny despite Project Texas

This is because of Project Texas which launched in 2022 to ensure Americans’ safety on TikTok as well as their privacy. Nevertheless, recently published articles such as Fortune’s report raise questions regarding the extent of ByteDance’s restriction from accessing American user data.

ByteDance has been under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) since 2019 when it took over and rebranded it as TikTok. The committee recommended banning TikTok in 2023 unless ByteDance sells the app back. President Joe Biden’s signing of a foreign aid package last week reflects ongoing tensions between Washington DC and Beijing over China’s control of American social media apps.

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