Northern Ireland civil service bans social media site TikTok on official devices

TikTok is set to be banned on official devices used by civil servants at Stormont, View from Stormont can reveal.

The social media app was banned by government departments at Westminster last week over security concerns and mass data gathering by the Chinese government.

The Department of Finance said: “Following the risk analysis and advice received from UK Government, we will implement the recommendations on deployment and use of TikTok on government issued devices.”  

Jim Gamble, online safeguarding expert, said TikTok "captured biometric data," something the platform denies it does in the UK or Europe.

“It will capture your facial mapping, it will capture you’re finger print, it will capture voice recognition, so it is capturing that modern identity that doesn’t really change.”

“That represents a huge a highly valuable intelligence harvest.”

The ultimate question with TikTok is what came first?

Was the data gathering potential realised after it became a global success, or was the viral video platform created as cover for a worldwide intelligence tool?

Former military Intelligence officer Phillip Ingram said: “When you are trying to gather an intelligence picture it is like trying to get a huge TV screen one pixel at a time.

"However, you don’t know what the final picture is going to be.

“What China does is it just hoovers up as much data as it can, from as many people as it can.”

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore.

It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location.

Jim Gamble added: “The government is looking at the 2017 national intelligence law in China.

“It basically says that any individual or organisation must comply with their intelligence services.

“There have been instances in the past were journalists have had their details accessed and tracked.”

Westminster is following the lead of other countries.

The European Commission announced recently that TikTok is temporarily banned from employees' phones as a cybersecurity measure.

The EU’s action follows similar moves in the US, where more than half of the states and Congress have banned TikTok from official government devices.

The guidance has been referred to as a “critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data" by the Office of Management and Budget.

Canada's chief information officer found the app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security," in a investigation that led to the platform being banned on Canadian government devices.

TikTok said bans have been based on “misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics”, saying it would be “disappointed by such a move” in the UK.

Philip Ingram added: “On their board they’ve got Chinese communist party members and that data harvesting capability has got direct links into the Chinese communist party.

“Looking at the increasing use of data by the Chinese to oppress not just their own people but people overseas the realisation of the actual threat is starting to bubble out into government and private bodies.”

TikTok said its board is made up of representatives of global investors and there are no members from the Chinese Communist Party.

It also said all user data is stored in centres outside China in the US and Singapore.

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