DOJ investigating TikTok owners for possible surveillance of US journalists: sources

ByAlexander Mallin and Luke Barr ABCNews logo
Saturday, March 18, 2023
DOJ investigating TikTok owners' possible spying on US journalists
Is TikTok spying on journalists? The DOJ is investigating ByteDance for possible surveillance of U.S. journalists, sources told ABC News.

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is investigating the possible surveillance of U.S. journalists by the owners of the social media app TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News Friday.

The investigation into the Beijing-based company ByteDance is being led by DOJ's Criminal Division in tandem with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and comes as the Biden Administration comes under increasing pressure to address the potential security threats presented by TikTok, the sources said.

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The people familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC that the investigation began late last year, after the company acknowledged some of its employees had wrongfully accessed the data of several journalists who cover the tech industry in order to try and track down their sources.

A Forbes journalist who has alleged she was one of the reporters whose data had been collected by ByteDance was the first to report on the DOJ's investigation, which was confirmed Friday by the New York Times.

A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment.

In a statement to ABC News, a ByteDance spokesperson said, "We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us."

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The news comes on the same week that the Biden Administration issued a demand to ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok or risk the video-sharing app being banned within the U.S.

TikTok confirmed to ABC News on Wednesday it was recently contacted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) which said that it would prefer ByteDance sell its stake rather than reach an agreement with the government to mitigate serious national security concerns.

President Joe Biden has also voiced support for bipartisan legislation that could empower the administration to ban TikTok.

TikTok's chief executive Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before Congress next week.

READ MORE | Biden administration demands TikTok's Chinese owners spin off their share or face US ban