Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. January 8, 2023.

Editorial: TikTok ban on state devices makes sense

Gov. Tony Evers’ move to ban TikTok from state-owned devices that employees use isn’t the first by a governor. It probably won’t be the last. But it is a point on which Evers and Legislative Republicans appear to agree, and they’re right to do so.

For those who have somehow managed to avoid learning what TikTok is, the app allows users to create videos, mostly very brief, while sharing, viewing and commenting along the lines of how other social media works. It is to all appearances, in the words of Douglas Adams, mostly harmless.

The catch? TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company based in Singapore. That raises the strong potential for ties between the business and the Chinese government. Protections against government access to corporate data that we take for granted in the United States simply don’t exist in China. Saying no, or even the equivalent of “get a warrant,” simply isn’t an option when the government wants information. And many Chinese companies actively cultivate a good relationship with the government in a bid to avoid crackdowns, proactively maintaining contacts.

That environment is not conducive to trust, and there are concerns that China could use the company’s access to western devices for intelligence purposes. Those concerns first became prominent within the Republican Party, and there’s evidence they have a basis in fact.

In December, overlooked amid the holiday scramble, came word that ByteDance used TikTok to access data on several reporters’ phones, tracked the reporters and sought to determine whether the reporters were in the same locations as employees the company thought leaked confidential information. The admission came after the company first claimed it had done no such thing, and that TikTok couldn’t even accomplish that kind of intrusion.

In short, they lied. The admission pointed the finger at employees in both the United States and China who accessed the information, claiming they went rogue to do so. If you buy that claim you might also be interested in oceanfront property in Kansas.

Wisconsin’s move will bring the total number of states that prohibit TikTok on official devices to 19, and the U.S. armed forces have their own ban in place. Given last month’s revelations, and the potential for sensitive information to be contained on official phones, this is a prudent step to take.

It should also prompt people to rethink how much they choose to put online and which apps they install on their personal devices. Most people, we suspect, would be horrified if they realized how much of their lives could be pieced together using the phones in their pockets.

Let’s begin with email. It may not be the most sensitive thing in most cases, but it allows a good observer to build a picture of who you communicate with, what your interests are and, in some cases, what your spending habits are. That’s a pretty good start.

Other social media apps contain additional information. We’ve read of cases in which people had their homes emptied because they posted photos of themselves on vacation. Even in less extreme cases, the Instagrammed images of your meal can give a good idea of how frequently you dine out and where. And if you have credit card or banking apps, there’s a potential treasure trove of financial information.

Now, none of those apps is problematic in and of themselves. They genuinely make life easier in many cases and allow us to maintain contact with people we would have lost track of in prior decades. They can and do have value.

The risk, then, is when you don’t know what you’re putting on your phone or who controls the apps. Those based in countries with robust legal protections for consumers and clear guidelines about when and how developers can access information are going to be safer than those from other locations. But how many people think about that when deciding whether to add the latest app?

We need to give our personal electronics more thought than we do, and the incoming ban on TikTok on Wisconsin state devices is a good prompt to do so.

Wisconsin may be the latest state moving in this direction, but it won’t be the last. And TikTok probably won’t be the last device to come under scrutiny for the same issues.


Wisconsin State Journal. January 8, 2023.

Editorial: Imagine a Legislature that listens to the people

Here’s some simple advice for the state Legislature, whose members were sworn into office last week: Represent the will of the people.

What does that mean? When the public overwhelmingly supports a policy decision, get it done.

We the people of Wisconsin actually agree on a lot.

For example:

— 84% of registered voters in the latest Marquette Law School poll said they support legal abortion in the case of rape and incest. And a majority — 55% — support Roe v. Wade’s constitutional projections. Only 37% of statewide respondents favored the repeal of Roe last June.

Lawmakers should listen. They should get rid of Wisconsin’s ancient law forbidding abortion in virtually all cases, including rape and incest. Approved in 1849 — before women had the right to vote — Wisconsin’s long-dormant law is now enforceable again, forcing women to travel to other states for the procedure.

The Republican-run Legislature shouldn’t cling to a puritanical law that close to 9 out of 10 people oppose across Wisconsin. They should agree with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers that women deserve some freedom to choose.

— 78% in the Marquette poll said they favor more state funding for police. Only 15% were opposed.

That means the next state budget should increase state aid to local governments, because local governments run police and sheriff’s departments. The budget also should address drunken driving, which is on the rise.

— 73% support requiring businesses to provide paid leave for the parents of newborns. Only 18% don’t like the idea.

Approving a paid-leave mandate would bring Wisconsin into the civilized world. Democrats have been supportive for years. Now Republicans are coming around.

Get it done to help more families thrive.

— 64% of respondents to a previous Marquette poll supported the legalization of marijuana, similar to neighboring Illinois and Michigan. That was more than twice as many as the 30% who opposed legal pot.

Evers and the Democrats are on board. Top Republican lawmakers last week were moving closer to accepting medical marijuana, which more than 80% of respondents have favored.

Just as the prohibition of alcohol didn’t work a century ago, neither has the ban on recreational marijuana. State lawmakers should respect the freedom of adults to safely use the mild drug, while working to prevent teen use and drugged driving.

— 63% of respondents in the latest Marquette poll support increasing state aid to public schools, rather than steering more money to private schools. Only 29% prioritized private schools.

That means the next state budget should include a solid increase for public K-12 education. It’s not just polling that shows the need for greater investment. Voters approved 64 of 81 school referendums in last fall’s election.

Why would the Republican-run Legislature disregard the will of the people in so many cases? The main reason is gerrymandering. They don’t have to fear voters because they’ve shaped their legislative districts to unfair advantage. While the two major parties collected similar numbers of votes statewide last fall, the Republican-controlled Legislature nonetheless maintained huge majorities of 64-35 in the Assembly and 21-11 in Senate.

Gerrymandering is the main reason why.

The Marquette poll asked voters about that, too, back in late 2021:

— 63% of respondents (including 62% of Republicans) favored a nonpartisan commission to draw fair voting districts. Only a quarter of those surveyed said the politicians should control the process.

Lawmakers, please respect your constituents. Approve nonpartisan redistricting the way the Republicans in Iowa have done, with bipartisan backing. That’s the most important action of all.