Canadians should listen to CSIS head on TikTok warning, Trudeau says

Click to play video: 'Canadians should listen to CSIS head on TikTok warning, Trudeau says'
Canadians should listen to CSIS head on TikTok warning, Trudeau says
WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau relayed a stark message from Canada's top spy about popular app TikTok. Global's Nathaniel Dove explains what he said and what action the government could take – May 17, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians should pay attention after the director of Canada’s spy agency called TikTok a threat, but that he is waiting to see how the company responds to American efforts to make the app safer.

“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,” Trudeau said on Friday, referring to CSIS director David Vigneault, who made the warning in a recent CBC interview.

“[It] is very clear the way the application is designed and who ultimately has control of the information. This information is going to be available to the Government of China,” Vigneault said, as quoted to Global News by a CSIS spokesperson.

“As the Director of CSIS, there is a very clear strategy on the part of the Government of China to be able to acquire as much personal information from anyone around the world,” he was quoting as saying, adding that China is using big data, computer farms and artificial intelligence to use the data.

Story continues below advertisement

“The ultimate goal is always to protect the interest of the Chinese Communist Party,” the spokesperson quoted Vigneault as saying, in a statement.

Trudeau, speaking in Winnipeg, said the federal government will follow how the company responds to the U.S. government’s crackdown on the app, saying, “We’ll see if there are changes that make TikTok a less unsafe platform.”

American lawmakers voted in April to force ByteDance, the China-based owner of the popular video app, to either sell the company or shut down operations in the U.S. after the FBI and Federal Communications Commission warned that a Chinese law can force TikTok to share users’ data with the Chinese government.

Trudeau said the government is “very aware” of those security and privacy concerns and is encouraging Canadians to be “very, very careful about their online usage.”

Click to play video: 'Biden signs bill that could ban TikTok in U.S.'
Biden signs bill that could ban TikTok in U.S.

Ottawa banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices in 2023, citing security concerns.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada’s spy agency CSIS said China “will remain an enduring threat to Canadian information, technology, democratic institutions and diaspora communities” in its 2023 annual report.

It says the Chinese government passed laws giving it the ability to control data in China and that Chinese intelligence services actively carry out clandestine and covert activity targeting democratic states.

ByteDance must divest or shutter the company by Jan. 19, 2025. The company and TikTok are suing the U.S. government on free speech grounds to block the law.

A TikTok spokesperson told Global News “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.”

In a statement, they wrote that TikTok moderates content in accordance with its community guidelines and not at the sole request of any government.

“We will continue to engage with Canadian officials and would welcome the opportunity to meet with CSIS to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians,” the statement said.

— with files from Uday Rana, Reuters and The Associated Press

Sponsored content