Sunak drops hints to follow US and EU TikTok ban for Government staff devices

Rishi Sunak has hinted that the UK could follow in the US and the European Union’s footsteps by banning the popular social media app TikTok on Government phones and devices.

The Prime Minister said Britain would “look at what our allies are doing” when it came to reviewing the presence of the Chinese-owned video sharing platform on staff equipment.

Washington and the European Commission have already moved to ban the app on devices issued to staff or on personal phones used for work.

Rishi Sunak visit to US
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke while in San Diego (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Conservative Party leader’s hint comes after senior backbenchers had urged him to follow the US and Brussels’s example.

TikTok has said the fears behind bans in other jurisdictions were “misplaced”, adding that it was “tightening” security around accessing UK and European user data.

Mr Sunak, speaking during a visit in San Diego, US, told the BBC: “We don’t routinely comment on matters like that.

“But what I would say is, of course, we take security of devices seriously.

“And we look also at what our allies are doing and we’re in the process of doing all of that.”

He told ITV News that ministers took “very seriously the use of government IT”.

Repeating his statement about considering the approach taken by allies, the Prime Minister added: “We want to make sure that we protect the integrity and security of sensitive information.

“And we will always do that and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that happens.”

It comes after The Sunday Times reported that experts at GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre had assessed the app and identified risks to sensitive information.

Online Safety Bill
Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries used TikTok while in post (@nadinedorriesmp)

The newspaper report suggested that, while ministers and civil servants will not be told to remove the app from their personal devices, advice is expected to be issued to explain what the risks are.

There have been concerns aired by security officials about whether the information on the app could be shared with the Chinese government.

The European Commission said it banned the device on staff devices after “careful” analysis but has not shared what information the policy relied on.

TikTok has long argued it does not share data with China.

However, Chinese intelligence legislation requires firms, including technology giants, to assist the Communist Party and its intelligence services when requested to do so — a policy some China-critics fear could expose Western data to Beijing.

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

The app has nonetheless become increasingly popular among politicians in recent years, with some MPs amassing tens of thousands of followers.

Former health secretary and reality TV star Matt Hancock is a regular user while Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps also has an account.

Nadine Dorries was also known to post on TikTok when she was serving as culture secretary during Boris Johnson’s premiership.

A TikTok spokesman 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.

“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.”