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Biden Moves to Stop China Gaining US Personal Data

The draft order would grant Attorney General Merrick Garland authority to review and potentially bar some commercial transactions involving the sale of or access to data


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The moves come in the wake of failed bids to bar Americans from using popular Chinese-owned social media platforms TikTok and WeChat. Photo: Reuters

 

The US plans to stop foreign adversaries such as China gaining access to domestic personal data, especially via Chinese social media platforms TikTok and WeChat, in a move that would give greater powers to the Department of Justice.

A draft executive order from President Joe Biden reflects a US intent to respond more aggressively to national security threats allegedly posed by Chinese companies that acquire personal data on Americans.

The proposal, which is being reviewed by government agencies, would also direct the Department of Health and Human Services  to prevent federal funding from supporting the transfer of US health data to foreign adversaries.

The moves come in the wake of attempts to bar Americans from using popular Chinese-owned social media platforms TikTok and WeChat.

Former president Donald Trump tried to ban the apps in 2020 alleging data collected by them could be given to Beijing and used to track users and censor content.

China and the apps have denied any improper use of US data. US courts halted implementation of the bans and Biden eventually revoked them.

 

Initial Draft Might Change

Spokespeople for the White House, the Department of Justice and the Commerce Department declined to comment. HHS did not respond to requests for comment.

The document is an initial draft that does not include input from government agencies and may change, according to another person familiar with the matter.

“What’s clear is the Biden administration is grappling with how to address this new risk frontier in the US-China relationship,” said Samm Sacks at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center.

If implemented, the draft order would grant US Attorney General Merrick Garland the authority to review and potentially bar commercial transactions involving the sale of or access to data if they pose an undue risk to national security.

US intelligence has warned about the risks posed by Chinese companies collecting Americans’ personal data by investing in US firms that handle sensitive healthcare information.

China’s BGI purchased US genomic sequencing firm Complete Genomics in 2013. In 2015, Chinese WuXi Pharma Tech acquired US firm NextCODE Health, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center noted.

The draft order comes as administration officials have grown frustrated with the Department of Commerce over delays in rolling out rules and investigating threats under similar powers granted to that department by Trump in 2019.

 

  • Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell

 

 

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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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