WASHINGTON, May 11 – According to a person familiar with the matter and passages obtained by Reuters, the Biden administration has crafted an executive order that would grant the Department of Justice broad authority to prevent foreign foes like China from obtaining US personal data.
According to the excerpts, the plan would also require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to restrict federal assistance from being used to support the transfer of U.S. health data to foreign foes.
After failed attempts by the Trump administration to ban Americans from using popular social media platforms TikTok and Wechat, the draught order reflects an effort by the administration to respond more aggressively to national security threats allegedly posed by Chinese companies that acquire reams of personal data from Americans.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to prohibit the applications, claiming that the data they collect could be sent to Beijing and used to track users and censor content. China and the applications have both denied any inappropriate use of data from the United States.
The sanctions were later repealed by US President Joe Biden after the courts delayed their application.
The White House, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce all declined to comment. HHS has yet to respond.
According to another source familiar with the situation, the document is an initial draught that does not include feedback from government departments and may alter.
According to one of the persons, if the draught order is adopted, it will give US Attorney General Merrick Garland the authority to assess and potentially prohibit commercial transactions involving the sale or access to data if they constitute an undue risk to national security.
The proposal also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to begin drafting a rule “to ensure that federal assistance, such as grants and awards, is not supporting the transfer of U.S. persons’ health, health-related, or biological data…to entities owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries,” according to the proposal.
Chinese corporations acquiring Americans’ personal data by investing in U.S. organisations that handle sensitive healthcare information, according to US intelligence. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center said in a 2021 fact sheet that China’s BGI purchased U.S. genomic sequencing firm Complete Genomics in 2013 and Chinese WuXi Pharma Tech acquired U.S. biotech NextCODE Health in 2015.
According to three people familiar with the process, administration officials have grown upset with the Commerce Department over delays in implementing rules and examining risks under similar authorities handed to the department by Trump in 2019.
These authorities allow the Commerce Department to prohibit or restrict transactions between US companies and “foreign adversary” countries such as Russia and China’s internet, telecom, and tech industries.
However, as previously reported by Reuters, the agency has yet to publish long-awaited rules laying out a safe harbour process for businesses or reveal the outcomes of investigations into corporations such as Russia’s Kaspersky and China’s Alibaba.
A June executive order urged the Commerce Department to use the new tools to secure Americans’ sensitive data from foreign foes via transactions involving apps, but no movement has been made on the proposal.
The new draught order expressly empowers the Department of Justice to “monitor compliance with and enforce any bans, licences, or mitigation agreements” imposed under previous executive orders, “thereby supporting the Secretary of Commerce’s jurisdiction.”
Another paragraph demonstrates that the Secretary of Commerce is also tasked with determining which types of transactions are outright prohibited and which are excluded.