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December 27, 2022updated 23 Dec 2022 12:40pm

UK Parliament TikTok shut down over China security concerns – August 2022 in review

MPs were alarmed to discover that the House of Commons had an official account on the Chinese platform.

By Matthew Gooding

Our review of 2022 moves on to August, when Parliament’s use of tech was called into question.

“The prospect of Xi Jinping’s government having access to personal data on our children’s phones ought to be a cause for major concern,” wrote alarmed MPs when they discovered the UK Parliament had set up a TikTok account. The trio of China hawks – Tom Tugendhat, Iain Duncan Smith and Nus Ghani – wrote a letter to the speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords calling for the account to be deleted, and soon got their wish.

Parliament opened – and promptly closed – a TikTok account. (Photo by Pres Panayotov/Shutterstock)

The MPs worried, perhaps not unreasonably, that under China’s National Intelligence Law, Chinese companies are required to yield data to government authorities on request, which could include data on the UK Parliament TikTok account.

In their reply, the speakers said they just wanted to be down with the kids, or words to that effect. “This account was an attempt to engage with younger audiences – who are not always active on our existing social media platforms,” they wrote in response to the MPs’ letter. “However, in light of your feedback and concerns expressed to us, we have decided that the account should be closed with immediate effect.”

It was not a stellar month for Parliamentarians and tech, as the Conservative Party leadership contest, set up to decide the next prime minister of the UK, had to be postponed by three days after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned that the online voting system being deployed may be vulnerable to outside influence.

A report also pointed out UK government domains were among hundreds of thousands of websites using the open-source development tool Git that were at risk of having their entire codebase, history and previous code changes stolen by hackers.

Online Safety Bill ‘not fit for purpose’, IT pros fear

Given this string of incidents, it was perhaps no surprise that IT industry figures were not convinced that the government flagship internet safety policy, the Online Safety Bill, would be an effective piece of legislation.

The bill was deemed ‘not fit for purpose’ by a majority of UK IT professionals, according to a survey by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

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Only 14% of 1,300 IT professionals surveyed consider the bill, which is intended to reduce the risk of harm to UK citizens online, to be ‘fit for purpose’. Over half (51%) believed it would not make the internet safe, and 46% believe it is “not workable”.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the respondents say the Bill will not stop the spread of disinformation and fake news. And 57% do not agree that is reasonable for Ofcom to ask platform operators to ‘develop or source’ technology to detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

The legislation, which has been years in the making, aims to stop children from accessing harmful content by placing controls on social media platforms and other tech companies around how they assess and delete illegal material. It also compels developers to make ‘back doors’ into encrypted messaging services available to law enforcement, something which is likely to put the government on collision course with tech companies. Businesses also fear it could leave them drowning in that pesky ‘red tape’.

In any case, the turmoil at Westminster meant the bill’s passage through Parliament was delayed, and it eventually returned at the beginning of December in a watered-down form.

More from August 2022: South Staffordshire Water Company hit by ransomware attack

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