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TikTok Banned On Parliamentary Network Over Data Security Concerns

TikTok will be banned from the parliamentary Wifi network (Alamy)

4 min read

TikTok will be banned on the parliamentary network as data security concerns grow around the social media giant.

TikTok's parent company ByteDance is headquartered in China, which has led to the company facing intense scrutiny over whether a national security law in China can compel to hand over user data to Chinese intelligence agencies if asked to.

The video-sharing app was recently banned on government devices, and will now be blocked on parliamentary devices and via the parliamentary wifi network. It can still be accessed on personal devices.

“Following the government’s decision to ban TikTok from government devices, the Commissions of both the House of Commons and Lords have decided that TikTok will be blocked from all parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network," a UK Parliament spokesperson said.

“Cyber security is a top priority for Parliament, however we do not comment on specific details of our cyber or physical security controls, policies or incidents.” 

On an FAQs page, the Parliamentary Digital Service stated there will be "no exemptions" from the ban, despite last week's government ban outlining that there would be specific exemptions for those who need to use TikTok for work purposes.

The parliamentary ban comes a week after it was banned with immediate effect on UK government devices. The government also announced that only pre-approved apps will be allowed across all government phones.

Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan told The Times Tech Summit on Thursday morning that she is a “strong believer” that people should have a “personal choice” over whether they use the app. 

“If [officials] are using their own personal device, it should be a personal choice," she said.

“We've got some of the highest strictest data, regulations and legislation in the world. We looked at this time and time again, we keep it under constant review, but I'm a strong believer that people should have that personal choice.”

Senior Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, who has consistently called for tougher measures on TikTok and China, welcomed the ban. 

"The decision to block TikTok from ALL parliamentary devices is welcome, a good decision," he tweeted. 

"Given this robust position in Parliament following the ban of TikTok from govt phones, it's now time that TikTok is also banned from Ministers' personal telephones."

But not all politicians are happy about the ban. Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps, who uses TikTok regularly to communicate with more than 14,000 followers, has been adament that he will not delete the app despite criticism levelled at him for using it.

"Grant and his team don't use any parliamentary resources to communicate with the electorate and he takes appropriate security measures, but he also knows that politicians need to communicate with their voters," a spokesperson for Shapps said.

Conservative MP Mark Logan, who previously lived in China for a few years, suggested that the UK is becoming more like China with the limits it places on social media platforms. 

“On wider national debate: China blocked many major western social media channels over a decade ago," he told PoliticsHome. "Are we taking inspiration from the East?”

At the time the latest UK TikTok ban was announced, CEO of TikTok Shou Zi Chew was testifying to the US House committee over the app’s data security, in a bid to determine whether the country will implement an all-out ban. 

"Since I've been CEO of this company I've not had any discussions with Chinese government officials," Chew has told the committee, adding that the company is committed to being “very transparent” and does not collect more data than other tech companies.

Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons last week that he had asked the National Cyber Security Centre for a review into TikTok, which has now concluded and identified there "could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms".

Dowden said the government had taken an "evidence-based approach", although it is unclear what the NCSC has identified as a specific risk of TikTok to government devices.

Communicating the ban to MPs, the Parliamentary Digital Services wrote: “Cyber security is a top priority for us all and we believe that this is a necessary step to ensure our parliamentary digital devices remain as secure as possible. 

“For users who currently access TikTok on a parliamentary provided device, such as an iPad or iPhone, this will mean the Parliamentary Digital Service will remove the TikTok app from your device.   

“If you currently access TikTok via the website from devices connected to parliamentary networks (including the guest Wi-Fi network), you will no longer be able to do so. 

“For any colleagues who wish to continue using TikTok on a non-parliamentary personal device, the Parliamentary Digital Service advises, in line with wider guidance, that using the web browser version is preferable to downloading the app.”

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