Parliament blocks TikTok from its devices in ban over security and data privacy fears

The Scottish Government said it will follow ministers in Westminster by banning the video-sharing app from official devices

Parliament has blocked TikTok from its devices and networks in the latest ban imposed on the social media app.

The commissions of both the House of Commons and the Lords cited security concerns as they decided to impose the ban across the Palace of Westminster.

The Scottish Government also announced on Thursday (23 March) that it will follow ministers in Westminster by banning the app from official devices over concerns “on the potential tracking and privacy risks from certain social media apps”.

Noted political TikTokers such as Energy Security Grant Shapps will be able to continue using the app on their phones’ data but will be blocked from accessing it on parliamentary wifi.

A spokesman for Parliament said TikTok “will be blocked from all parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network”.

“However we do not comment on specific details of our cyber or physical security controls, policies or incidents,” the spokesman added.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “This ban will be implemented immediately. It does not extend to personal devices used by staff or the general public.”

The move comes after Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden announced TikTok had been banned from government phones in the UK, after security concerns were raised about use of the Chinese-owned app.

Dowden said the ban would be “good cyber hygiene” and will take place with “immediate effect” on Thursday (16 March).

Ministers and officials will still be able to use the app on their personal phones.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been under pressure from senior MPs to follow the US and EU in banning the social media app from government devices.

TikTok has been banned on government phones in the UK (Image by Getty Images) TikTok has been banned on government phones in the UK (Image by Getty Images)
TikTok has been banned on government phones in the UK (Image by Getty Images)

‘Security of sensitive government information must come first’

Dowden said the ban was “a prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts”.

He added: “The security of sensitive government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on government devices. The use of other data-extracting apps will be kept under review.”

The minister said there will be “limited exemptions” on some government devices made on a “case by case basis” where the app is required for work purposes.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Dowden was “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

While TikTok said it was “disappointed with this decision” and bans have been based on “misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics”.

A TikTok spokesman said: “We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics, in which TikTok and our millions of users in the UK, play no part We remain committed to working with the Government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors.

“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.”

Security minister Tom Tugendhat had asked chiefs at the National Cyber Security Centre to review the video-sharing app before deciding on the “hugely important question”.

Washington and the European Commission have already banned TikTok on staff phones. The Prime Minister said the UK will “look at what our allies are doing”.

The app is increasingly under the European and US microscope due to security and data privacy concerns, with fears it could be used to promote pro-Beijing views or gather user data.

Parliament’s TikTok account was shut down last year after MPs raised concerns about the firm’s links to China.

TikTok has long argued that it does not share data with China but Chinese intelligence legislation requires firms to assist the Communist Party when requested. Critics fear the policy could expose Western data to Beijing.

The move by the UK would likely anger Beijing, which has already accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok amid reports the White House is calling for its Chinese owners to sell their stakes.

In late February, the White House gave all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices. Some agencies, including the Departments of Defence, Homeland Security and the State Department already have restrictions in place.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US was threatening a ban on the app unless its owners, Beijing-based ByteDance, divested.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing Washington has yet to present evidence that TikTok threatens national security and is using the excuse of data security to abuse its power to suppress foreign companies.

He said: “The US should stop spreading disinformation about data security, stop suppressing the relevant company, and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign businesses to invest and operate in the US.”

TikTok was dismissive of the report. A spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said: “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”