No10 is resisting calls to ban Government officials from using TikTok as a Tory MP posts a video to the massively popular site showing the security layout of Downing Street. The UK government is at risk of falling behind the EU and the US, it has been warned, by allowing its members to keep sharing on the Chinese social media giant.
On Thursday, Tory backbencher Luke Evans uploaded footage of himself going through the gates outside No10 Downing Street and up to the famous black door – although stopped short of including images from inside the seat of British democracy.
The European Commission on the same day suspended the use of TikTok on devices issued to staff, as well as personal devices that staff use for work. The US had already introduced a similar ban for its federal government employees.
This has placed pressure on Rishi Sunak to follow suit – including from his own Cabinet, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace saying during a round of press interviews on Friday morning that he did not use TikTok and people should be “careful” with how they use it.
Alicia Kearns, a Conservative lawmaker and chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, is among the loudest voices calling for the UK government to adopt the precedent set by its allies.
She said: “We run the risk of being marooned as a tech security laggard among free and open nations. The government needs to review its policies and move to ban government officials and parliamentary staff from installing the app on any mobile phones utilised for work, if not any device.”
Meanwhile former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who co-chairs the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, fumed that the government response was “pretty weak”.
He added: “The prime minister has an opportunity to take control of China policy and it’s a critical time to do so. I hope the government owns up to the danger China poses and takes action immediately on TikTok.”
Firms in China are required by the country’s intelligence legislation to assist the Communist Party and its intelligence services on request. This includes big data tech companies, although TikTok aims to downplay this on the international stage.
TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, has repeatedly denied that it poses a security risk, claiming the EU’s decision is based on “fundamental misconceptions”, adding that it has contacted the commission “to set the record straight.”
It is also reportedly among those pushing back against a ban here in the UK. According to Politico, TikTok is actively lobbying in and around Westminster to prevent the political movement against its app.
Its General Counsel Erich Andersen is reportedly planning a briefing on March 6 to explain the company’s steps to “ensure the integrity of our platform,” according to a text message seen by the outlet.
Last year, Parliament’s own account on the site was shut down when MPs raised concerns on TikTok’s connection with the Chinese government. However, some MPs may be reluctant to give up their accounts on the app, where they have accrued tens of thousands of followers.
It is particularly popular with younger voters, and is likely to be a key battleground in the run-up to the election next year. Mr Evans, for instance, as over 40,000 followers on the site, and has close to a million “likes” across his videos.
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Former health secretary and reality TV star Matt Hancock is a regular user, and Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps also uses the app.
When asked about the EU’s decision on Thursday, a spokesperson for Mr Sunak said it was up to “individual ministers and departments” to decide which social media platforms they use to reach the public. They added: “I’m conscious that there are some ministers who use TikTok, but it’s ultimately for individual departments and ministers to decide.”
A government spokesman said: “All departments have robust processes in place to ensure government IT devices are secure, including managing risks from third-party applications.”
In his interview with LBC, Mr Wallace said: “We should all be careful, whatever social media we use. They all collect data about us. There’s a phrase about the internet which is ‘If it’s free, it’s probably because you’re the product’. That is how these companies work.
“TikTok is overall owned by a Chinese company and I think if you put your data on there you are not just sharing it with the person publishing it. The caution is, be careful what you put on these things.”
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