President Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order revoking former President Trump executive orders targeting Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat, replacing them with his own signed new order requiring security reviews of these and other apps in the jurisdiction of foreign adversaries.
The new order directs the Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo to evaluate apps connected with foreign adversaries under recent U.S. supply-chain security rules “and take action, as appropriate,” by blocking those that pose a security risk.
According to the White House fact sheet, the Commerce Department will be required to review apps “involving software applications that are designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons that are owned or controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People’s Republic of China, that may present an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States and the American people.”
According to a senior administration official, Biden’s executive order seeks to develop a better process for identifying and documenting national security concerns so that potential bans on data transfers can withstand court challenges.
Trump’s actions issued last year were specially aimed at Chinese companies including TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. and WeChat owner Tencent Holdings Ltd., with his executive order attempting to ban the download of those apps in the U.S. app stores thus forcing a sale of the Chinese-owned company to U.S. owners.
A federal judge blocked the attempted action of TikTok downloads in the U.S. back in late September, just hours before the ban was set to take place. In February, the Biden administration indefinitely shelved the attempted Trump administration’s plan to force a sale of the video-sharing app with Oracle Corp and Walmart. In a court filing, the Biden Justice Department said it had begun a review of the agency action that would help it determine whether the national security threat cited by the Trump administration continues to warrant the ban.
However, the order does not address actions or investigations taken by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States or CFIUS. Under the Trump administration, CFIUS set several deadlines for apps like TikTok to divest itself from its ByteDance.
“The CFIUS action remains under active discussion by the US government,” a senior administration official told reporters on a background call Wednesday.
The new order aims to clarify the criteria that the U.S. views as harming Americans’ sensitive data, the officials said. The data includes personally identifiable information and genetic information that would go to people directly linked to foreign adversaries, including China, the White House fact sheet noted
“The administration is committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet and to protecting human rights online and offline, and to supporting a vibrant global digital economy,” the administration official said.
“The challenge that we’re addressing with this EO is that certain countries, including China, do not share these commitments or values and are instead working to leverage digital technologies and American data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks,” the official added.
The administration officials would not go into specifics about the future of TikTok’s availability to American users on the app store nor say whether the United States government would seek to compel ByteDance to transfer American user data to a company based in the United States.