LONDON — High-ranking Tory politicians who have been sanctioned by China are demanding that the British parliament delete their newly created TikTok account.
Senior MPs and members of the House of Lords have accused parliamentary authorities of creating an account on the social media platform, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance.
Tom Tugendhat, the former Conservative leadership candidate and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, and Nus Ghani, deputy chairman of the party’s powerful backbench committee in 1922 , are among those calling for the account to be taken down over fears that TikTok user data could be transferred to China.
In a joint letter sent to the Speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords on Wednesday – and seen by POLITICO’s London Playbook – the politicians said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the decision to set up the account.
They said that under the National Intelligence Act passed in 2017, companies are required to provide data to government authorities upon request. They expressed doubts over assurances from a TikTok executive in parliament in 2021 that his user data is not being shared with ByteDance in China.
“The prospect of Xi Jinping’s government having access to personal data on our children’s phones should be of major concern,” the letter said. He urged parliamentary authorities to delete the account “until credible assurances can be given that no data can be transferred to China”.
The Chinese government sanctioned Tugendhat, Ghani and Duncan-Smith among others last year, saying they had “maliciously spread lies and misinformation” about human rights abuses.
The British parliament launched its new account this week, urging people to follow him “for news and behind-the-scenes content from the Elizabeth Tower”. TikTok allows users to post short videos, often overlaid with music.
Ghani, a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “We cannot make parliament become a client of an app that sends data to a government that has sanctioned it. And we certainly cannot allow Parliament to become a client of an application whose leaders may have misled it.
MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee are now setting a date for TikTok executives to appear before them and answer new questions about where its users’ data is processed.
Theo Bertram, TikTok’s vice president of government relations and policy in Europe, wrote to the committee this month saying the platform had “never been asked to provide TikTok user data to the Chinese government, and nor would we if asked to do so”.
Responding to a question about whether ByteDance employees in China can access user data, Bertram said there is “limited and controlled access to employee data”, for example for engineers based in China.
Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s director of government relations, told the same committee last year that “none of our user data goes to China” and that “TikTok does not share user data with ByteDance in China. “.
Bertram told Tory MP Damian Green during a September 2020 Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing that “no employee in China can access TikTok data in the way you suggest on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party to carry out mass operations”. surveillance.”
TikTok argues that, in their broader context, these statements referred to the possibility of access to data by the Chinese government, which it says it never provided, and not to China-based employees.
However, BuzzFeed obtained a leaked recording in June revealing that US user data was accessed multiple times from China. MPs including Ghani are now accusing TikTok executives of potentially misleading parliament over the matter.
Tory MP Tim Loughton, Crusader House of Lords member David Alton and Labor peer and lawyer Helena Kennedy were also co-signers of the letter. All were sanctioned by Beijing last year and therefore cannot enter mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau.
A UK parliament spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm we have received the letters and will respond in due course. Before creating the new UK Parliament TikTok account, we have taken all necessary steps to ensure that none of our data is at risk. We cannot go into more detail on these measures for security reasons. »
A TikTok spokesperson said: “The TikTok platform does not operate in China and we have never provided user data to the Chinese government. UK politicians and government departments use TikTok to reach millions of people. in an engaging and creative way – we welcome the opportunity to speak directly to signatories to clarify factual inaccuracies contained in their letter to the Presidents.”
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