Security minister Tom Tugendhat does not rule out full TikTok ban

Security minister Tom Tugendhat warning of potential ‘spying’ risk of phone Apps   (PA Wire)
Security minister Tom Tugendhat warning of potential ‘spying’ risk of phone Apps (PA Wire)

Cyber experts are probing whether millions of Britons are at risk of being spied on by China or other states through Apps on their phone, a minister said on Tuesday.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat stressed the need for Apps to be “useful tools” for people rather than capable of being “spyware” to target them.

“Looking at the various different Apps that people have on their phone and the implications for them is a hugely important question,” he told Times Radio.

“I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look into this.

“There are various different Apps that people put on their phones that most of us, me certainly, I’m far too attached to my phone as my wife will tell you, my kids tell me the same, and what we need to do is we need to make sure that our phones are not spyware but useful tools for us.

“That is where we need to get to in this process and that is what I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look at.”

Rishi Sunak has hinted that Britain could follow the US and the EU by banning the TikTok app from Government phones and devices. A number of countries have banned the app.

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

Mr Tugendhat was asked if he would go further and order a fully-fledged ban on the App, like those ordered by India and former US president Donald Trump.

He responded: “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.”

Mr Trump’s ban, which faced a series of legal challenges and never came into force, was revoked by his successor in the White House, Joe Biden.

Mr Tugendhat, who is seen as a hawk on China within the Conservative Party, noted the Indian government’s ban on many Chinese-owned Apps.

On Sky News, he said: “What certainly is clear is for many young people TikTok is now a news source and, just as it’s quite right we know who owns the news sources in the UK... it’s important we know who owns the news sources that are feeding into our phones.”

TikTok has denied it poses a security risk and has long argued that it does not share data with the Government in Beijing but Chinese intelligence legislation requires firms to assist the Communist Party when requested.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “While we await details of any specific concerns the UK government may have, we would be disappointed by such a move. Similar decisions elsewhere have been based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics, but we remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns.”

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