Biden issues executive order to better shield Americans’ sensitive data from foreign foes

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will sign an executive order Wednesday aimed at better protecting Americans’ personal data on everything from biometrics and health records to finances and geolocation from foreign adversaries such as China and Russia.

The attorney general and other federal agencies should prevent the large-scale transfer of Americans’ personal information to what the White House calls “countries of concern,” while building safeguards around other activities that could give those countries access to the country’s sensitive data. people.

The goal is to do this without restricting legitimate trade around data, senior Biden administration officials said on a call with reporters.

Biden’s move takes aim at commercial data brokers, the sometimes shadowy companies that trade in personal data and that officials say can sell information to foreign adversaries or U.S. entities controlled by those countries.

Most final enforcement mechanisms still have to deal with complex and often months-long regulatory processes. Still, the administration hopes to eventually restrict foreign entities, as well as foreign-controlled companies operating in the U.S., that might otherwise improperly collect sensitive data, the senior officials said.

Data brokers are legal in the US and collect and categorize personal information, usually to build profiles of millions of Americans that the brokers then rent or sell.

The officials said activities such as computer hacking are already banned in the US, but buying potentially sensitive data through brokers is legal. That could pose a significant gap in the country’s national security protections when data is sold to a broker knowing it could end up in the hands of an adversary — a gap the administration now wants to close with the president’s executive action.

“Bad actors can use this data to track Americans, including military personnel, pry into their personal lives and pass that data on to other data brokers and foreign intelligence services,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet announcing the move. “This data can enable intrusive surveillance, scams, blackmail and other privacy violations.”

The order directs the Justice Department to issue regulations that provide protections for Americans’ sensitive personal data, as well as sensitive government-related data – including geolocation information on sensitive government sites and members of the military.

The Justice Department also plans to work with Homeland Security officials to establish security standards to prevent foreign adversaries from collecting data. It will further seek to implement better controls to ensure that federal grants going to several other agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, are not used to transfer Americans’ sensitive data to foreign adversaries or U.S. companies linked to them are to facilitate.

The senior administration officials named potential countries of concern including China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. But it’s China — and TikTok, which has more than 150 million U.S. users and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd. – what American leaders are most vocal about.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, recently noted, “There is no such thing as a private company in China.”

Senior government officials emphasized that executive action was intended to work in tandem with legislative action. However, to date, numerous bills seeking to implement federal privacy protections have failed to make progress in Congress.

Wednesday’s move follows Biden’s executive order on artificial intelligence last fall, which aims to balance the needs of high-tech companies with national security and consumer rights.

That sought to guide how AI is developed so that companies can benefit without endangering public safety, by creating early guardrails to ensure AI is reliable and helpful, rather than deceptive and destructive.