App off limits for ministers and Whitehall amid spy fears
MINISTERS, advisers and civil servants will be banned from having TikTok on their work phones this week over China spying fears.
Members of the Government and officials will also be discouraged from keeping the controversial video-sharing app on their personal phones, after safety risks were identified by the intelligence services.
The restrictions will be announced later this week in response to concerns that users’ sensitive data could be accessed by the authorities in Beijing from the firm’s owner ByteDance, which has its headquarters in China. But it is understood that a total UK ban on TikTok, preventing the public from accessing it, is not under consideration.
It follows moves by the US, the EU and Canada to stop officials using the app on their work devices, and comes after the Government declared that China ‘poses an epoch-defining challenge’.
Asked about a possible ban yesterday, security minister Tom Tugendhat told Times Radio he had asked the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of GCHQ, to assess the risk. ‘We need to make sure that our phones are not spyware, but useful tools for us,’ he said.
Asked if the review could mean a ban on TikTok, he replied: ‘It will be addressed with the challenges we face, with the threats we face. I’m not going to give you an answer until I know what the risks are.’
When Rishi Sunak was asked this week if the Government was considering a ban on the app, he replied: ‘We want to make sure that we protect the integrity and security of sensitive information. And we will always do that and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that happens.’
The official Downing Street TikTok page has not been updated since the summer. Ministers have come under pressure to take tougher action from China hawks, with Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns saying people should ‘without question’ delete the app.
A spokesman for TikTok, believed to have nine million active users in the UK, said: ‘Similar decisions elsewhere [about bans on Tiktok] have been based on misplaced fears, but we remain committed to working with the Government to address any concerns.
‘We have begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data. TikTok is enjoyed by millions of people in the UK safely and securely.’