One of the nation’s top spy chiefs says Australians should consider getting a second phone if they wanted to use social media apps such as TikTok.
While Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) boss Rachel Noble denied recommending politicians and their staff should make the switch, she told a Senate estimates hearing that having a phone free of social media was the only way to have “absolute certainty” of data privacy.
“Our advice was, frankly, for people who are members of parliament who might be particularly targets of espionage … that if you wanted absolutely certainty that your social media app couldn’t have access to those things … would be to have a second phone which you exclusively use for that,” she said.
Earlier this year, it was reported ASD held confidential briefings with politicians and staff to warn them that some apps were undertaking excessive data collection and requesting access to contact lists, location data and photographs.
“It’s disappointing that the contents of that private briefing was reported to the media,” Ms Noble said.
Not all MPs and staff were briefed about the advice during the July 28 meeting. Ms Noble said the invitation was sent out via the Labor caucus.
“It was mostly staff who attended,” the ASD chief said.
In some cases, Ms Noble told the hearing, social media apps are collecting additional data “which extends beyond the content of messages, videos and voice recordings”.
“Social media apps are monetising what you do on your phone, what you access, what you look at for how long, who your friends are – they will seek to get demographics of your friends in order to push you the information and get you to buy things,” she said.
Officials confirmed social media apps headquartered in authoritarian countries, like China, posed an increased risk.
“Sometimes this data is stored outside of Australia and may be subject to lawful access or covert collection by other countries,” she said.
Last year, the Department of Home Affairs joined the Defence Department to restrict TikTok on work phones.
Under questioning on Monday, Department of Parliamentary Services officials revealed they had not provided the same advice to MPs and staff.
“We haven’t received an equivalent level of advice to us that would warrant us to be providing that advice directly to parliamentarians,” chief information security officer Toby Amodio said.
Parliaments in the United States and New Zealand have warned against the use of TikTok on government devices.
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