Margot James – 2019 Statement on WhatsApp Data Breach

Below is the text of the statement made by Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, in the House of Commons on 15 May 2019.

I am responding to this question from the shadow Secretary of State because the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is in Paris for the G7 Digital Ministers meeting. He is meeting political and digital leaders from across the world, including senior representatives of Facebook, which owns Whatsapp, to ensure that the technology that is an increasing part of our daily lives is developed and managed in a safe and ethical manner.

I share the concern of all Members of the House about WhatsApp’s announcement of this vulnerability and the steps that it is taking to address it. In this instance, the National Cyber Security Centre has acted quickly to assess the risk to UK users and to publish guidance for our user base here in the UK. The NCSC has recommended that users protect their devices by installing updates as soon as they become available, and I would encourage any users with concerns to check the NCSC website. It is right that people should have confidence that their personal data will be protected and used fairly and lawfully.

The Data Protection Act 2018, which the Government passed last year, imposes strict obligations on organisations to ensure that UK citizens’ data is processed safely, securely and transparently. Organisations that fail to comply with the legislation may be investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which received extra resources and more powers last year during the passage of that Bill. WhatsApp has designated the Irish Data Protection Commission as its European national regulator, and the ICO will work with and support its Irish counterpart so that the data of UK citizens is protected.

Cyber-security is of paramount importance to this Government, and our cyber-security strategy, which is supported by £1.9 billion of investment, sets out ambitious policies to protect UK citizens and businesses in cyber-space. Trust is the foundation of our digital economy. Cyber-security is absolutely vital in providing the stability and certainty that businesses need to thrive, and the public must have confidence in it.