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UK Joins Allies in Banning TikTok from Government Devices

On Thursday, the United Kingdom joined its allies in the United States, Canada, and the European Union by banning Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from official government devices. Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden announced the “precautionary move” with “immediate effect”, noting it would apply to devices issued within ministerial and non-ministerial departments, but not to “personal devices for government employees or ministers or the general public”.[0]

The decision comes after a review by the country[2]s National Cyber Security Centre concluded that there “could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms”.[1] This concern was echoed by security minister Tom Tugendhat, who told Times Radio he had asked the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of GCHQ, to assess the risk.[3] “We need to make sure our phones are not spyware, but useful tools for us,” he said.[3]

The US, EU and Canada have all stopped officials using the app and the US has said it could ban the app entirely if TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Bytedance, does not sell it. India has gone one step further and blocked the app entirely.[0]

TikTok has strongly denied allegations that it hands users[2] data to the Chinese government, and is implementing a new data policy, Project Clover, to further protect its European user data. In a statement, TikTok said, “We have begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data, which includes storing UK user data in our European data centres and tightening data access controls, including third-party independent oversight of our approach.”[5]

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister, had been urged by important Members of Parliament to block the video-sharing app from being used on official government devices, just like the United States and the European Union have done.[6] Asked about a possible ban yesterday, Sunak replied: [2]We want to make sure that we protect the integrity and security of sensitive information. We shall forever take whatever steps are essential to ensure that occurs.[3][2]

Ex-Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith declared: “Official matters are conducted on personal telephones.” But MPs pressed for the ban to cover such devices.[6] Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former minister, informed the Commons that private telephones are utilized for communication.

0. “The TikTok MPs – who now can’t use it on government phones” AOL, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.aol.com/news/tiktok-mps-now-t-government-151459337.html

1. “UK Bans TikTok App on Government Phones Over Security Fears” Bloomberg, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-16/tiktok-to-be-banned-on-uk-government-phones-over-security-fears

2. “Minister orders GCHQ review of TikTok over national security fears” The Telegraph, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2023/03/14/minister-orders-gchq-review-tiktok-national-security-fears/

3. “TikTok banned from phones of ministers and Whitehall staff” Daily Mail, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11860645/TikTok-banned-phones-ministers-Whitehall-staff.html

4. “UK.gov bans TikTok from its devices as a ‘precaution' over spying fears” The Register, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.theregister.com/2023/03/16/ukgov_bans_tiktok_from_work_devices/

5. “UK bans TikTok on government devices” CNN, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/16/tech/uk-tiktok-government-device-ban/index.html

6. “Grant Shapps stays on TikTok and cites ‘I’m not f***ing leaving’ meme” The Independent, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tiktok-ban-grant-shapps-dicaprio-b2302265.html

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