National Security Subcommittee Chair Requests Classified Briefing on Foreign Smartphone Applications

Aug 7, 2020
Press Release
Chairman Lynch Writes Intelligence Community After President Trump’s Executive Orders on TikTok, WeChat

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 7, 2020)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, sent a letter to John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence, and Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), requesting a classified, interagency staff briefing on the counterintelligence, economic, and geopolitical risks of foreign-owned and operated smartphone applications. 


The letter follows President Trump’s two executive orders that would prohibit U.S. persons and companies from doing business with the popular smartphone applications TikTok and WeChat after 45 days. 


“In light of the executive orders, the Trump Administration must provide Congress with additional information on the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the risks of foreign smartphone applications, including WeChat and TikTok, so that we can make informed, targeted policy decisions that promote democratic values while protecting data privacy and U.S. national security,” Chairman Lynch wrote.


On February 26, 2020, Chairman Lynch wrote to FBI Director Wray and then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell requesting information on whether mobile applications developed, operated, or owned by foreign entities pose a potential national security risk.


On July 7, 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told the Subcommittee that key risk factors from foreign-developed applications are:


  • Clear foreign government intent to harm U.S. interests;
  • Technical skills and capabilities that would enable them to conduct supply chain operations;
  • The nature of the information produced, collected, or stored by an application; and
  • A legal/governance regime that would enable the foreign country to easily utilize commercial application developers for their foreign intelligence operations.


On July 10, 2020, the FBI told the Subcommittee: “[I]f users voluntarily provide information to a mobile application that is based in a foreign country or that stores information in a foreign country, the information is subject to the respective foreign country's laws, which may allow its acquisition by that country's government.”


ODNI also highlighted in its response to the Subcommittee that these risks are not limited to Chinese-owned and operated smartphone applications: “Russian firms that develop, own or operate mobile applications would be unable to resist attempts by Moscow to share U.S. person data that they collect.”


Today’s letter requests that the Trump Administration provide the Subcommittee with an interagency, classified staff briefing by Friday, August 14, 2020.

116th Congress