Trudeau Says Canadians Should Listen to CSIS on TikTok Risks, but There Are No Plans for a Ban

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says although the government is not considering a ban on the social media app TikTok, Canadians’ should heed the warnings from the country’s intelligence director.

“We lean heavily on CSIS and our intelligence agencies to keep Canadians safe. When the director of CSIS is pointing out that TikTok poses a real threat to the data security of Canadians. I think Canadians need to listen,” Mr. Trudeau said during an unrelated news conference in Winnipeg on May 17.

The prime minister’s comments come after Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director David Vigneault warned in a CBC interview that data from TikTok “is available to the government of China.”

“My answer as director of the [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] is that there is a very clear strategy on the part of the government of China to be able to acquire personal information from anyone around the world,” he said.

“As an individual, I would say that I would absolutely not recommend someone have TikTok.”

A spokesperson for TikTok told Reuters that “these assertions are unsupported by evidence, and the fact is that TikTok has never shared Canadian user data with the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.”

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Mr. Trudeau noted that TikTok has been banned from government devices since 2023.

“We already took measures as a government to ensure that all federal computers and phones do not have the TikTok app applied to them. That’s a risk that we don’t want for our government,” he told reporters.

The government announced it would be removing the app from its devices on Feb. 27, 2023, according to a Public Safety Canada web page. The move followed a determination that TikTok posed an “unacceptable level of risk” for privacy and safety.

“On mobile devices, TikTok collects your personal data, including: contact lists, calendar entries, device location, hard drives, including external ones,” CISIS said in a post on Twitter at the time.

“Users who have downloaded the app are more vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

The video-sharing platform has a large audience of younger users, Public Safety Canada said, with a 2022 report from Toronto Metropolitan University finding that 76 percent of those between 18 and 24 years have a TikTok account. That was an 11 percent increase in Canadian users from 2020 statistics.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company, and was made available globally in 2018.

US Legislation on TikTok

Mr. Trudeau said the government will be watching what happens in the United States after legislation was passed that would legally require ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban on U.S. app stores and hosting services in January 2025.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act into law on April 24, the day after the Senate passed the legislation.

TikTok is suing the U.S. government over the law, saying it is “unconstitutional.”

“They claim that the Act is not a ban because it offers ByteDance a choice: divest TikTok’s U.S. business or be shut down,” the company said in a May 7 court filing.

“The ‘qualified divestiture’ demanded by the Act to allow TikTok to continue operating in the United States is simply not possible: not commercially, not technologically, not legally.”

“With the move the Americans made, we’re going to see how TikTok responds,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We'll see if there are changes that make TikTok a less unsafe platform.”

“The concerns are that the data that Tiktok collects on all of its users gets simply funnelled to the government of China and is used potentially for nefarious purposes. These are things that we are very aware of and we’re encouraging Canadians to be very, very careful about their online usage,” he said.

Andrew Thornebrooke and Terri Wu contributed to this report.

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