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'This may be a 1st step': Canada bans TikTok from federal government devices

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada's decision to ban TikTok on government-issued mobile devices could be the start of a further crackdown on the video streaming platform.

"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 that we’re keeping Canadians safe," Trudeau told reporters on Monday shortly after the government announced it would block the app on government devices.

"Obviously we take very seriously the freedom of expression, the freedom of Canadians to engage how they want online," he added. "But we also have very important principles around protection of data, protection of Canadians’ safety and security that we will always step up for."

A note to Global Affairs Canada employees earlier Monday said the government is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices because the app may leave users vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"As of February 28, the TikTok app will be automatically removed and blocked from use on all government-issued mobile devices," senior department officials said in the note, obtained by CTV News.

Canada's chief information officer made the decision to ensure the security of government information systems and networks, the note said.

"A review of the mobile application's behaviour … found that TikTok's data collection methods may leave users vulnerable to cyber attacks."

The memo was signed by the department's assistant deputy minister Stéphane Levesque, chief security officer Sébastien Beaulieu and chief information officer Jean Paul Donoghue.

In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson called the government's move to ban the app "curious," saying the government did not cite any specific security concern or contact the company with questions.

"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," the spokesperson said. "All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians."

President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier, whose department oversees the public service, said in a statement that the decision to remove and block TikTok from government devices is being taken "as a precaution" and lines up with the approaches of international partners.

"On a mobile device, TikTok's data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone," Fortier said. "While the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised."

Trudeau suggested on Monday that the move to block TikTok on government phones may prompt the general public to stop using the platform.

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

Canada's privacy commissioner announced last week that he and three provincial counterparts are launching a joint investigation into TikTok.

The probe will look at whether the video streaming service's practices comply with Canadian privacy legislation, in particular whether "valid and meaningful consent" is being obtained for the collection and use of personal information," the commissioners said in joint statement.

The U.S. banned TikTok from government-issued devices late last year. The European Commission enacted a similar ban last week.

The bans come amid increasing concern about TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is based in China, and its treatment of user data. TikTok officials have insisted the app is not in any way controlled by the Chinese government.

It's also a time of heightened geopolitical tensions with China. Earlier this month, the U.S. shot down a Chinese high-altitude balloon that had also flown through Canadian airspace, saying it was a suspected spy device. China's government has said it was a weather balloon that went off course.

In addition, recent media reports have raised concerns about potential Chinese interference in the last two Canadian federal elections, prompting opposition parties to call for a public inquiry into alleged foreign election interference.

FEDERAL LEADERS SUSPENDING USE OF APP

Two federal party leaders with a combined 1 million TikTok followers say they plan to suspend use of the app in wake of the government's announcement. 

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre suspended his TikTok account with more than 236,000 followers Monday. A spokesperson for his office said the Conservative caucus will follow suit. 

"Conservatives take seriously all threats to privacy and security from foreign authoritarian regimes and will always defend the individual privacy rights of Canadians. 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. The Leader and all Conservative caucus members will suspend their TikTok accounts and work with all parties to ensure our parliament is protected," a statement said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he has no problem stepping back from the platform, but his account with more than 878,000 followers was still active Tuesday afternoon.

- with files from Chris Holski, Newstalk 580 CFRA, and The Canadian Press

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