Staffers can’t use apps from countries with ‘offensive cyber program’ against the Netherlands.
By PIETER HAECK
March 21, 2023
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The Dutch government issued new guidance Tuesday for its officials to uninstall apps from countries that wage an "offensive cyber program" against the Netherlands, including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The move is a response to questions by Dutch lawmakers about whether the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok should be banned from work phones. Government officials were told in November not to use TikTok for government work, but formal restrictions on the app — like the ban that EU institutions issued in February — were not in place yet.
In their new guidance, the Dutch are going beyond TikTok. "The first step is to immediately dissuade officials of the national government to install or use apps on mobile work devices from companies originating from countries with an offensive cyber program against the Netherlands and/or against Dutch interests," Minister of Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen wrote in a letter to lawmakers, seen by POLITICO. The guidance is based on advice from the country's intelligence services.
A second letter, sent from the intelligence services to the minister of interior affairs, detailed which countries the order affects and why the measure was deemed necessary. "In case an application is managed in a country with an offensive cyber program against the Netherlands or Dutch interests, there's an increased risk of espionage," the letter, dated February 23 and seen by POLITICO, reads. "Examples of countries with such an offensive cyber program are Russia, China, Iran and North Korea."
Intelligence services in those countries have "the intent and capacity" to spy on the Netherlands, it adds.
The current recommendation is only a first step, as the Dutch government wants to roll out IT infrastructure in which only apps that are vetted in advance can be downloaded and used by staff. There's a possible exemption for when an app is needed to carry out vital government tasks, like a criminal investigation or intelligence gathering.
"Neither TikTok nor our parent company are Chinese-owned, nor controlled by any state or government," a TikTok spokesperson said in response to the Dutch guidance.