WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday revoking a Trump-era order aimed at banning TikTok, the popular video app, as well as WeChat and eight other communications and financial technology software applications.
Biden’s new order instead calls for a broad review of foreign-owned applications and directs the secretary of commerce, the director of national intelligence and other agencies to provide reports to the president on the potential risk such apps pose to personal data and national security. The Department of Commerce will also recommend additional executive and legislative steps that should be taken.
“The Biden Administration is committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet; protecting human rights online and offline; and supporting a vibrant, global digital economy,” the White House said in a statement.
“Certain countries, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), do not share these values and seek to leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests.”
Then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order in August barring U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok. The Trump administration also ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok and set multiple deadlines for ByteDance to divest, but never enforced those deadlines.
Trump’s order faced immediate legal challenges and the ban was never instituted.
Trump also issued a similar executive order targeting WeChat, a messaging app owned by Tencent, one of the largest Chinese tech companies.
TikTok has maintained that it operates without influence from the Chinese government and that it stores U.S. user data in the U.S. and in Singapore. TikTok’s lawyers have described Trump’s crackdown on the company as “political campaign fodder” intended to make Trump appear tough on China ahead of his re-election campaign.
“By operating on United States information and communications technology devices, including personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including United States persons’ personal information and proprietary business information,” Biden’s executive order reads.
“This data collection threatens to provide foreign adversaries with access to that information. Foreign adversary access to large repositories of United States persons’ data also presents a significant risk.”