The Biden administration has revoked executive orders signed by former president Donald Trump targeting the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps, and issued a new order that steps up scrutiny of Chinese apps and software that could threaten the data of Americans.
The order signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday is the latest move to tackle what Washington views as the growing security risk from China. He directed his administration to establish a process to determine what apps and software from foreign adversaries, including China, threatened US national security.
The order establishes a mechanism to conduct a “rigorous, evidence-based analysis” to assess the risks posed by software “designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons that are owned or controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including . . . China”.
The move overrides three orders from Trump that banned Americans from using the short video app TikTok and the messaging platform WeChat. Those bans had effectively become moot because of court cases challenging their basis. The Biden administration hopes that the new executive order will establish a more rigorous framework that will place any future bans on a much more solid legal footing.
The order also expands the scope of the Trump-era measures by ordering the commerce department to determine if the health and genetic data of Americans were at risk from software produced by US adversaries. The Biden administration said China was seeking to “leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests”.
The Biden administration has recently taken multiple measures to reduce the national security threat from China. Last week, Biden signed an order that expanded on another Trump measure by banning Americans from investing in 59 Chinese companies that are viewed as undermining US national security.
On Tuesday, the administration announced the details of a supply chain review aimed at reducing US dependence on China for a range of technologies and materials such as rare earths that are critical for the manufacture of everything from electric vehicles and smartphones to fighter jets and precision-guided missiles.
“When you consider this new executive order and the investment action from last week, the administration is clearly moving from months of reviews to a period of more sustained action and implementation,” said Eric Sayers, a security expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
“The real success of this new data security framework would be the adoption of it by other countries struggling with how to balance open data flows with a more trusted model for ensuring security,” Sayers said.