Australia: Last member of secretive 'Five Eyes' alliance bans TikTok on government phones

The other Five Eyes intelligence alliance partners — the United States, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand — have all taken similar steps.
Deena Theresa
TikTok logo seen on mobile with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew sketch displayed on screen
TikTok logo seen on mobile with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew sketch displayed on screen

NurPhoto / Getty Images  

Ten days after TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress to address concerns about the company's data practices and its links to China to fight against the app ban, another country has entered the foray.

Australia is the last of the "Five Eyes" security partners to ban TikTok from all federal government-owned devices over security concerns. The other Five Eyes partners, the United States, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand, have all taken similar steps, Associated Press reported.

In a statement on Tuesday, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said his department would issue a mandatory direction to prohibit the Chinese-owned app on devices issued by commonwealth departments and agencies.

"The direction will come into effect as soon as practicable. Exemptions will only be granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigations in place," he said.

Lee Hunter, TikTok's general manager for Australia, said that the company was not informed of the proposed ban prior. "We are extremely disappointed by this decision, which, in our view, is driven by politics, not by fact," Hunter said in a statement. "Again, we stress that there is no evidence to suggest that TikTok is in any way a security risk to Australians and should not be treated differently to other social media platforms," Hunter added.

China's national security law mandates the sharing of customer data

Governments are concerned about the ByteDance-owned app's risks to cybersecurity and data privacy. Though TikTok has maintained that it does not share data with the Chinese government, China's national security law mandates that Chinese companies share customer data when requested by the government.

In what sounds very worrying, Liberal Senator James Paterson told Sky News Australia that the move was already "very, very late."

"It was ten months ago that TikTok admitted to me in a letter that Australian user data is accessible, and has been accessed in mainland China, which of course puts it in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party under their intelligence laws," Paterson said.

"Our closest allies and friends have been acting for months, it’s more than 90 days since the US banned it on their government devices – the UK, Canada, New Zealand, European Union, France, and so many others have followed," he added.

Currently, the European Parliament, European Commission, and the EU Council have imposed bans on TikTok on staff devices. In March, government agencies in the U.S. had 30 days to delete the app from federal devices and systems.

In 2020, India imposed a nationwide ban on TikTok and a host of other Chinese apps, citing security concerns and geopolitical issues. At the time, the video app had about 190 million users in the country, which was the highest at the time in the world.

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