Biden studies new ways to prevent China from appropriating US data

By Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has drafted an executive order giving the Justice Department sweeping powers to prevent foreign rivals such as China from accessing Americans’ personal data, according to a person familiar with the matter and excerpts seen by the public. Reuters.

The proposal, which is under review by government agencies, would also direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to block federal funding to support the transfer of US health data to foreign adversaries.

The draft reflects an effort by the administration to respond more aggressively to national security threats allegedly posed by Chinese companies acquiring reams of personal data from the United States, after failed attempts by the Trump administration to ban Americans from using it. from the popular social media platforms TikTok and Wechat.

Former President Donald Trump tried to ban the apps in 2020, claiming that data collected by them could be handed over to Beijing and used to track users and censor content. China and the apps have denied any misuse of US data.

But the courts stopped the implementation of the bans and the president of the United States, Joe Biden, ended up revoking them.

Spokesmen for the White House, the Justice Department and the Commerce Department declined to comment. HHS did not respond to requests for comment.

The document is an early draft that does not include input from government agencies and is subject to change, according to another person familiar with the matter.

If implemented, the executive order would give US Attorney General Merrick Garland the authority to review and potentially ban business transactions involving the sale of or access to data if they pose an undue risk to national security, one of the experts said. people.

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The proposal would also direct the Department of Health and Human Services to begin drafting a rule «to ensure that federal assistance, such as grants and awards, do not support the transfer of health or biological data of United States persons … to entities that owned, controlled, or subject to their jurisdiction or direction by foreign adversaries,» according to an excerpt.

The US intelligence services have warned of the risks posed by Chinese companies that collect personal data from Americans by investing in local companies that handle sensitive health information.

Chinese company BGI bought US genomic sequencing company Complete Genomics in 2013, and in 2015 China’s WuXi Pharma Tech acquired US company NextCODE Health, the National Center for Counterintelligence and Security noted in a 2021 fact sheet.

The draft decree comes at a time when government officials have been frustrated by delays by the Commerce Department in presenting regulations and investigating threats under similar powers granted to it by Trump in 2019, according to three people familiar with the matter. with the process.

The powers allow the Commerce Department to prohibit or restrict transactions between US companies and Internet, telecommunications and technology companies of «foreign adversary» nations, including Russia and China.

But so far, the department has not released long-awaited rules detailing a secure process for businesses or announced the results of investigations into companies including Russia’s Kaspersky and China’s Alibaba, as Reuters previously reported.

The Commerce Department was also given explicit instructions in a June executive order to use the new tools to protect Americans’ sensitive data from foreign adversaries through app transactions, but has not released any progress on the move.

The draft gives the Department of Justice the express authority to «supervise compliance with and enforce any prohibition, license, or mitigation agreement» issued under the above orders, «thereby supporting the authority given to the Secretary of Commerce.»

It also directs the Secretary of Commerce to establish which classes of transactions are directly prohibited and which are exempt, according to another excerpt.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld; Editing in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)