The TikTok app has been effectively banned on the phones of New Zealand MPs with the Parliamentary Service chief executive citing that the “risks are not acceptable” as similar moves are made across the globe.
Overnight, Britain said it would ban the Chinese-owned video app on government phones with immediate effect, a move that follows other Western countries over security concerns.
Early today, an email from Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, leaked to Newstalk ZB, informed New Zealand MPs that similar moves would be made here.
TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny worldwide due to concerns that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could be accessed by the Chinese government, threatening Western security interests.
Gonzalez-Montero’s email stated that Parliamentary Service had been examining the use of the TikTok application on corporate devices following “recent decisions made internationally to ban use of this application”.
With agreement from the Parliamentary Service Commission, Parliamentary Service had decided to block the TikTok application on all Parliamentary Service-managed devices from Friday, March 31.
TikTok could still be accessed through a web browser.
The app must also be uninstalled from personal phones that also have Parliament applications.
“The decision to block the TikTok application has been made based on our own analysis and following discussion with our colleagues across government and internationally.
“Based on this analysis the Service has determined that the risks are not acceptable in the current New Zealand Parliament environment.”
In a statement to NZME, Gonzalez-Montero confirmed the decision saying it was based on “advice from our cyber security experts”.
Arrangements could be made for those who required the app to perform their democratic duties, he said.
“This decision has been made based on our own experts’ analysis and following discussion with our colleagues across government and internationally.”
Today’s ban follows warnings issued to MPs in recent years.
Stuff recently reported at least nine organisations do not authorise the use of the app on government devices, including the Defence Force, which in November last year ordered staff to wipe it from their phones.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said there was not a “blanket approach” to such issues across the public sector as in other countries.
Departments and agencies took their own advice from the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in terms of IT and cybersecurity policies.
He said he had not received a specific briefing on the latest policy so could not comment on the reasoning.
He said he did not personally have TikTok on his phone.
“I am not that hip and trendy.”
Te Pāti Māori is a frequent TikTok user, and co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said they opposed the ban and would look to continue using it on a separate phone.
She said it was an important method to communicate with a large proportion of the population on social media, particularly youth.
“A lot of young people have left those older platforms they, they don’t follow us on Facebook.
“There’s only a certain age group that really are on Instagram and it’s our jobs to connect with all of our people no matter where they are.
“A large proportion of young people in Aotearoa are on Tik Tok.”
On security concerns, Ngarewa-Packer said she agreed they needed to be considered but other platforms that were not Chinese-owned should be treated the same.
“Both are mining data, and both are looking to market that data.”