Last summer, President Trump issued Executive Order 13942, which made major headlines by seeking to implement what effectively amounted to a ban in the United States of the popular social media app known as TikTok. This executive order points to the national security issues posed by the widespread use of mobile applications owned and developed by Chinese companies as the reason for the ban. These national security concerns include the potential for TikTok to share the private information it collects from its users in the United States with its Chinese parent company—ByteDance Ltd. On August 6, 2020, the same date that Executive Order 13942 was issued, President Trump also issued Executive Order 13943, which similarly sought to effectively ban WeChat, a mobile application owned by Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd. Although these executive orders were set to come into effect 45 days after the date they were issued, their prohibitions never materialized due to court challenges.
Earlier this month, President Biden issued his own executive order repealing, among other things, Executive Orders 13942 and 13943, and put an end to President Trump’s attempt to ban the use of TikTok and WeChat in the United States. In Executive Order 14034, titled “Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries,” the Biden administration takes its own approach to addressing the potential privacy issues posed by foreign apps collecting the personal information of U.S. citizens. President Biden’s June 9, 2021, order has a few noteworthy differences from President Trump’s Executive Orders.
One significant difference in President Biden’s order is scale. Unlike its predecessors, Executive Order 14034 focuses less on China and more broadly on foreign adversaries. Likewise, rather than outright banning any specific app, Biden’s order directs the Commerce Department to conduct a review and provide a report making recommendations on protecting against harm from the unrestricted transfer of U.S. personal information to foreign adversaries, including through mobile apps.
Another key difference is the timing provided for this review. Executive Order 14034 provides 120 days from the date of the order to the Commerce Department to make its recommendations. Executive Orders 13942 and 13943 were set to go into effect in just one-third of the time of the requirements of President Biden’s order.
One criticism of Executive Order 14034 is that it takes a less aggressive approach concerning taking immediate action toward protecting the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. On the other hand, supporters can point to President Biden’s order as taking a more measured and careful approach that can apply more broadly to a greater number of potential threats. The Commerce Department’s recommendations, which are set to be made no later than October 7, 2021, will be worth monitoring going forward to see a more complete picture of the United States’ strategy for protecting privacy rights from foreign powers.