TikTok will be banned on Australian government-issued devices over cyber security and foreign interference fears, following similar bans of the Chinese social media platform by other Five Eyes nations.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on Tuesday authorised that a mandatory direction be issued under the Protective Security Policy Framework to ban the app on the recommendation of national security and intelligence agencies.
The widely expected ban, which will apply to public servants, as well as politicians and their staffers, will “come into effect as soon as practicable”, but exemptions will be granted on a “case-by-case basis” if “appropriate security mitigations” are in place.
According to the direction, a “legitimate business reason” must be approved by an agency’s chief security officer, who will also ensure mitigations are in place to manage security risks.
Mitigations include using a “standalone device without access to services that process or access official and classified information” and ensuring metadata is removed from photos and videos.
“TikTok… poses significant security and privacy risks to non-corporate Commonwealth entities arising from extensive collection of user data and exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law”, the direction adds.
State and territory governments are now expected to follow the federal government with a ban of the app on government devices. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, who has almost 110,000 followers on TikTok himself, was the first to confirm that the policy settings will be adopted.
TikTok will still be able to be used on private devices. In Queensland, Parliament has reportedly foreshadowed the changes and is already allowing MPs to use electoral allowances to buy a secondary mobile, or ‘burner’ phone, for social media use.
Australia is the last of the five eyes intelligence alliance comprising the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand to ban the social media platform, the popularity of which has skyrocketed since the pandemic.
The ban comes a month after information sought by Liberal Senator and shadow cyber security minister James Patterson revealed an inconsistent approach to banning TikTok across the federal government, with 11 of the 53 agencies examined permitting the app.
Senator Patterson, who began lobbying the government to enact a ban in July 2022 after learning that Australian user data is accessible in China, welcomed the ban, but criticised the government being the “last Five Eyes member to act”.
“If the government acted when I first called for them to do so, Australia would have led the world tacking this cybersecurity threat, as we did when in August 2018 we banned Huawei from our 5G network,” he said.
Senator Paterson is now calling on the government to address the “broader cyber security and foreign interference threat posed by TikTok to the millions of other Australian users”, as US lawmakers are now considering.
But Greens Senator and digital rights spokesperson David Shoebridge said the decision entirely misses the point, with US-based platforms owned by Meta, Twitter, Google and Amazon also harvesting data.
“Banning TikTok from government devices is a publicity stunt which masks the fact our data is being exploited by every corporation that can get its hands on it – social media platforms, health apps, the games our children play,” he said.
“We must enshrine principles that all platforms are required to comply with that limit data harvesting and provide strong privacy protections that you can’t surrender with a click.”
Greens Senator and communications spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young added that the ban “raises further questions about media and technology regulation in Australia,” describing current laws as “out of date and not fit-for-purpose”.
“Rather than just resort to a knee jerk response to one platform, we should be looking more broadly about how we protect Australians from the darker side of Big Tech,” she said.
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