Dating apps next after TikTok ban

Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo has been pressed on the department’s position on social media use following a ban on TikTok. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Tim Pascoe

Federal cabinet is canvassing advice from the Home Affairs Department on the security risks of Instagram, Netflix, Twitter and dating apps in the wake of a TikTok ban on government-issued devices.

Department secretary Mike Pezzullo confirmed the report from an internal review of social media risks had been provided to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil in March as he was grilled at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.

While Mr Pezzullo refused to disclose the nature of the advice, he hinted cabinet was considering restricting the use of apps other than TikTok when he said Ms O’Neil had decided to present the review to cabinet.

“The minister has made a decision to bring this forward to her colleagues. It’s currently the subject of consideration across government,” he said.

“She … has sought approval for the matter to be considered through cabinet processes.”

Mr Pezzullo made the remarks after he was asked if the department had carried out “due diligence” on the use of apps other than TikTok on public servants’ phones and laptops in the wake of France’s wide-ranging ban.

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Senate Committee
Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo fronted Senate estimates on Monday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

The French government in March announced a ban not only on Tik Tok, but on all social media platforms, gaming and video-streamed apps such as Twitter, Instagram, Netflix and Candy Crush because of cybersecurity and privacy concerns.

Mr Pezzullo took a question on whether he would provide a copy of Home Affairs’ social media risk review to the Senate committee running the estimates hearing on notice, saying he’d seek guidance from Ms O’Neil regarding its release.

He confirmed the review formed part of the broader investigation Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil commissioned earlier this year into the risks posed by the use of social media platforms on government-issued devices.

That probe prompted the Albanese government to ban TikTok on phones and computers operated by politicians and public servants in April, over security concerns the Chinese social media app posed an espionage risk and following similar bans in other western countries.

The government hasn’t announced a ban on any other platforms.

The Albanese government has banned TikTok on public servants’ and politicians’ work phones and laptops. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Tim Pascoe

On Monday, Mr Pezzullo said he’d “frankly” be surprised if any of the department’s officials had time to be watching Netflix on their government devices.

But he was more noncommittal when he was pressed on whether Home Affairs staff could download dating apps on their work phones, saying he believed the department would prohibit such platforms through its “whitelisting and black-listing processes”.

“I’m going to be fairly confident in saying that. And if there are any dating apps, they will be deleted this afternoon, I can assure you,” he said.

But when pressed on the matter, Mr Pezzullo couldn’t confirm if dating apps were already banned.

He deferred to his colleague Mike Milford, the department’s group manager of technology and major capability.

Mr Milford said the Home Affairs banned dating apps, as well as gambling apps and pornographic websites individually with a “whack a mole” black-listing approach.

Mr Pezzullo said some apps such as Google Maps were useful to have on government devises, noting public servants could use extra safeguards such as location service restrictions.

“All apps carry data risks. The question is, does the benefit outweigh the risks? And, if the benefit is still material enough, can the risks be managed in such a way that the application can be safely used?” he said.