Biden to issue executive order aimed at protecting Americans’ sensitive data from China, other 'hostile countries'

U.S. President Joe Biden will issue a new executive order intended to safeguard the personal data of American citizens from countries deemed hostile.

Biden to issue executive order aimed at protecting Americans’ sensitive data from China, other 'hostile countries'

US President Joe Biden speaks to a bipartisan group of governors in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, during the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, on February 23, 2024. 

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden will issue an executive order Wednesday intended to safeguard the personal data of American citizens from countries deemed hostile.

The executive order centers on the business of selling people's personal information, in which companies and so-called data brokers collect and trade data. The Biden Administration is worried that data brokers and other commercial entities will sell this information to "countries of concern-which have a track record of collecting and misusing data on Americans."

Lawmakers and intelligence agencies have previously expressed concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is amassing a wealth of U.S. data, posing national security concerns.

The order focusses on specific, sensitive information like genomic data, biometric data, personal health data, geolocation data, financial data and other kinds of personally identifiable information.

Hostile countries can use this data "to track Americans (including military service members), pry into their personal lives, and pass that data on to other data brokers and foreign intelligence services," according to a White House fact sheet.

"The sale of Americans' data raises significant privacy, counterintelligence, blackmail risks and other national security risks-especially for those in the military or national security community," the White House said in a release on the new E.O.

"Countries of concern can also access Americans' sensitive personal data to collect information on activists, academics, journalists, dissidents, political figures, and members of non-governmental organizations and marginalized communities to intimidate opponents of countries of concern, curb dissent, and limit Americans' freedom of expression and other civil liberties," the White House said.

The executive order will direct the Department of Justice to issue several regulations intended to protect sensitive data. It will also instruct the Department of Homeland Security and the DOJ "to set high security standards to prevent access by countries of concern to Americans' data through other commercial means, such as data available via investment, vendor, and employment relationships."

Additionally, the order directs the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector "to consider the threats to Americans' sensitive personal data" when they conduct reviews of submarine cable licenses.

"These actions not only align with the U.S.' longstanding support for the trusted free flow of data, but also are consistent with U.S.' commitment to an open Internet with strong and effective protections for individuals' privacy and measures to preserve governments' abilities to enforce laws and advance policies in the public interest," the White House explainer read.

Last week, the Biden administration announced an executive order intended to improve the cybersecurity of U.S. ports. For instance, government officials said that 80% of port equipment known as ship-to-shore cranes ports are made in China, and they are concerned that the gear could be compromised and used for surveillance.

Congress has also zeroed in on potential privacy risks posed by the data-broker industry. Last May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent letters to over 20 companies like Equifax and Oracle, asking for information about their data-collection-and-distribution methods.

"American privacy concerns in the data broker industry are not new, and existing laws do not sufficiently protect Americans' data from misuse," the letter said.

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