Public must recognise ‘collective responsibility’ for keeping UK safe, says MP

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Members of the public need to share responsibility for keeping Britain safe from hostile regimes such as Russia and China, the chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has said.

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns warned the public had been “encouraged to abdicate responsibility for their own security”, weakening the UK’s defences against autocracies.

In a speech on Wednesday to the Policy Exchange think tank, Ms Kearns said: “Our forebears recognised the role of collective responsibility in protecting individual freedoms.

“We must take responsibility again and ask not what our country can do for us, but instead recognise our collective duty to make the choices that make our country safer.”

She encouraged the Government to begin a “national conversation” with the public about the “every day choices that each of us can make to hold off the autocrats”.

G20 summit
Alicia Kearns said ‘useful idiots and cyber attacks’ had enabled autocracies to spread ‘malign influence’ in Parliament (UK Parliament/Andy Bailey)

She said: “It is hard to overstate just how infiltrated we have become. Even in Parliament, the birthplace of democracy, we have seen the malign influence of autocratic states through useful idiots and cyber attacks.”

She also renewed warnings about widespread use of Chinese technology in Britain, accusing Beijing of “industrialising” acquisition of UK data.

Ms Kearns said: “We spent weeks discussing the threats from balloons in our stratosphere when a much greater threat lies in our pockets and on our streets.

“Data-exploiting technologies have become part of the fabric of our lives, whether it be TikTok, or Hikvision and Dahua CCTV cameras on our streets, or the DJI drones and Hytera body cameras carried by our police.

“Our data makes us vulnerable; it reveals our networks, our locations, our interests and habits, and our pattern of life, and as other countries take action to protect their citizens, we run the risk of becoming a laggard amongst free and law-abiding nations.”

In recent weeks, both the European Commission and the US government have banned staff from using Tik Tok on official devices over fears that the Chinese-owned app could be used to harvest personal data, and Ms Kearns has called on the UK Government to follow suit.

In December, TikTok executive Liz Kanter insisted the platform has not been asked for UK user data by the Chinese government and would not provide it if it was.

In Wednesday’s speech, Ms Kearns went on to urge the Government to tackle “transnational repression”, including by shutting down offices in London and Manchester that she described as “recruitment centres” for Iran’s Republican Guard.

She also called for the UK and allies to counteract the “subversion of multilateral organisation” by autocracies, who have managed to place their representatives in leadership positions in organisations such as the United Nations and Interpol.

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