PEN America: Biden Order On Apps Controlled by Adversaries Brings Much Needed Rigor
Biden’s repeal-and-replace of Trump’s TikTok executive orders is an important turn toward process, evidence, and perhaps dialog.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Washington, D.C.) — The Biden-Harris administration this week rescinded three Trump-era executive orders that attempted to effectively ban Chinese-owned social media applications TikTok and WeChat from doing business in the U.S. The rescinded orders were replaced by a new one that establishes a firmer foundation for the U.S. government to rigorously evaluate the risk that apps and services controlled by “foreign adversaries” may pose to the privacy of U.S. persons and U.S. national security, a more nuanced approach that PEN America welcomes.
“The internet doesn’t have to be a tool of mass surveillance and a geopolitical chessboard,” said Matt Bailey, PEN America’s digital freedom program director. “The Trump-era executive orders rescinded this week loosely corresponded to plausible national security and privacy concerns but were capriciously targeted and loosely written to the point of posing real threats to the free and open internet. With governments now regularly using the internet as a weapon, there is good reason to take action to protect human rights and preserve the promise of the internet as a space of global cultural exchange. But that requires policies that are consistent and grounded in fact.”
The Biden-Harris administration’s executive order calls on the Departments of Commerce and State, the intelligence community, and other agencies to assess threats to U.S. persons and national security resulting from the collection of the private data by foreign adversaries and companies under their control or influence. The order requires the development of recommendations for reducing these threats, including potential legal and other measures, and the creation of a process of continuous monitoring and evaluation of the threats posed by such “information and communications technology or services.” The order cites the “ongoing national security emergency” previously declared by the administration related to these issues, and asserts that “the United States must act to protect against” these risks, though it stops short of prescribing responses to be taken or penalties that would be imposed as a result of any assessment that a specific app or service poses a security risk.
“The Biden-Harris administration’s approach, while couched in terms of national emergency and the need for action, seems intended at the same time to establish a foundation for consistency and fact-based policy as the slow-motion collision of national sovereignty and the global internet continues,” said PEN America’s Bailey. “When superpowers reduce the internet to a battleground, we all lose. PEN America hopes this EO signals a turn toward dialog between countries, civil society, and the public in search of better ways forward.”