Federal government banning social media platform TikTok from government phones

The federal government is removing and blocking the video-sharing platform TikTok from all federal government devices, citing security reasons.

Chief information officer made the decision, citing security concerns

A TikTok logo is seen in an illustrative photo image, taken in July 2021.
The federal government will remove and block the TikTok app from all government-issued phones as of Feb. 28. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The federal government is removing and blocking the video-sharing platform TikTok from all federal government devices, citing security reasons.

In an email sent to Global Affairs employees on Monday, department officials said the Chief Information Officer of Canada made the decision following a review. The review found that TikTok's data collection methods could lead to cyber attacks, the email said. 

The app will be deleted and blocked on all government-issued mobile devices on Feb. 28. The National Post first reported the story

"The Government of Canada continuously works to ensure the cyber security of our networks by identifying threats and vulnerabilities, including those on social media platforms," the email said.

"The government will continue to monitor the situation and will work with partners to keep the information on our systems and networks secure."

WATCH Federal government will remove TikTok from government-issued devices: 

Canada bans TikTok on government-issued devices

1 year ago
Duration 2:01
As of Feb. 28, the Canadian government is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices, citing security concerns over the app’s links to China.

Agencies and Crown corporations that don't fall under the federal government's Policy on Service and Digital were informed of the decision on Monday and "strongly advised" to consider following suit, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said in an emailed statement on Friday.

"CBC is a Crown corporation and not subject to the Policy on Service and Digital, and as such is not covered by this decision," the statement said.

However, several Crown corporations have voluntarily decided to leave TikTok — including the Bank of Canada, Trans Mountain Corporation, the National Capital Commission and the Standards Council of Canada.

Joint probe launched

TikTok specializes in the sharing of short videos. Beijing-based internet technology company ByteDance owns the platform; its ownership has raised concerns at a time of heightened tensions between China and the West.

Last week, Canada's federal privacy regulator, along with three provincial counterparts, launched a joint probe of the platform's collection, use and disclosure of users' personal information.

Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, said in a statement that the chief information officer determined the app "presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security."

"On a mobile device, TikTok's data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone," Fortier said in the statement.

"While the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised."

Fortier added that the decision is in line with that of other governments.

A politician speaks at a lectern.
President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier is shown at a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 15, 2022. Fortier said in a statement on Monday that although the federal government is removing TikTok from government phones for security reasons, it has no evidence that any information has been compromised. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The European Commission and European Council have banned TikTok on work devices, as have several American state governments. Most United States federal government employees are also barred from having the app on their government-issued phones, and the U.S. Congress is debating a bill that would ban TikTok across the country.

In response to a question from CBC News on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not say whether his government is considering a country-wide ban.

"This may be a first step, it may be the only step we need to take, but every step of the way we're going to be making sure we're keeping Canadians safe," Trudeau said at a news conference.

"Certainly, I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones, many Canadians ... will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices in consequence."

Trudeau said last year that Canada's electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), is watching TikTok "very carefully."

TikTok, opposition parties respond to ban

A TikTok spokesperson said the government did not inform the company of the decision prior to the announcement.

"We're disappointed that the Chief Information Officer of Canada has moved to block TikTok on government-issued mobile devices without citing any specific security concerns about TikTok or contacting us to discuss any concern prior to making this decision," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

"We are always available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians, but singling out TikTok in this way does nothing to achieve that shared goal. All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians."

The Conservative Party is calling for an expansion of the ban.

"We will fully comply with the directive to remove TikTok from government devices and will work to see that this ban is extended to include parliamentary devices," a party spokesperson said in a statement.

"The leader and all Conservative caucus members will suspend their TikTok accounts and work with all parties to ensure our Parliament is protected."

WATCH | Government's TikTok ban 'overly political,' tech expert says: 

Government's TikTok ban 'overly political,' tech expert says

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Vass Bednar, the executive director of McMaster University's master of public policy program, questioned the decision to remove and block TikTok from all federal government devices while not asking similar cybersecurity questions about other apps.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been a prolific user of TikTok, with nearly 880,000 followers on the platform.

"We take all security concerns seriously and we will comply with any directives issued about banning TikTok from government devices to ensure that information is protected," Singh said in a statement on Monday.

"When security and intelligence agencies express concerns about digital platforms, Canadians expect elected officials to treat them seriously and take necessary action."

With files from Stephen Hoff and Janyce McGregor