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Biden revokes, replaces Trump executive orders on Chinese-owned apps

WASHINGTON: President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday on ensuring the security of American user data in regard to foreign-owned apps such as TikTok, revoking and replacing three Trump-era executive orders to impose a more structured “criteria-based decision framework” for potential bans.

Driving the news: It’s the latest in a series of China-related steps Biden is taking ahead of his first overseas trip to Europe, where curtailing Beijing’s abuses will be a top agenda item in meetings with G7 and NATO leaders.

Details: The EO replaces three previous Trump-era EOs and directs the Department of Commerce to “instead evaluate foreign adversary connected software applications” under new rules.

  • The EO outlines criteria for determining what foreign-connected apps may pose an “unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security.
  • These include transactions involving apps owned or controlled by “persons that support foreign adversary military or intelligence activities, involved in malicious cyber activities … or collect sensitive data,” according to a White House fact sheet.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is continuing to outline how its tough-on-China approach will differ from Trump’s, implementing aggressive policies that officials say are more aligned with American values.

  • Trump’s previous executive orders essentially sought to ban popular video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat from the U.S.
  • The bans were temporarily blocked in court because the national security concerns outlined by the Trump administration were too hypothetical or vague.

Between the lines: The Biden administration is seeking to develop a better process for identifying and documenting national security concerns so that potential bans on data transfers can withstand court challenges.

What they’re saying: On a call with reporters, a senior administration official said the EO is meant to protect sensitive American data from collection and utilization by foreign adversaries, including China.

  • A review of the ownership structure of TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, remains ongoing at the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the official said, declining to share more details.
  • The EO is an important part of the administration’s foreign policy strategy with China and part of its agenda to work with international partners, the official said.
  • The official said the White House wants to protect American user data while promoting principles of a free and open internet that safeguard human rights and the digital economy.

The bottom line: The Biden administration wants to be tough on China, but is doing so in its own way.