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Biden Issues Order Seeking to Protect American Data from Foreign Adversaries

U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, on Feb. 28, 2024. Biden signed an executive order aiming to better protect Americans' personal data from foreign adversaries.
U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, on Feb. 28, 2024. Biden signed an executive order aiming to better protect Americans' personal data from foreign adversaries.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday intended to protect Americans’ personal data from foreign adversaries.

The order seeks to block bulk transfers of data such geolocation, biometric, health and financial information to “countries of concern.”

Among specific countries identified by Biden administration officials as concerns were China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

“Bad actors 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,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet announcing the move. “This data can enable intrusive surveillance, scams, blackmail, and other violations of privacy.”

Emily Benson, director of the Project on Trade and Technology at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA’s Mandarin service that the executive order represented one of the U.S. government’s furthest-reaching attempts to create a privacy framework.

Benson said a distinguishing factor between the American approach to data governance and those of other allies such as the European Union is that the U.S. approach is based on a national security paradigm, so the executive order is a national security instrument rather than a privacy mechanism.

Sarah Bauerle Danzman, associate professor of international studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, told VOA’s Mandarin service there are a lot of concerns about data going to potential adversaries, including information about people in the U.S. government or U.S. military, or data that could be used for surveillance purposes.

Bauerle Danzman said those concerns extend to ways in which bulk data could be used to track dissidents in diaspora communities, including for purposes of silencing or intimidating those communities.

Hannah Kelley, research associate at the Center for a New American Security’s Technology and National Security Program told VOA’s Mandarin service the executive order is an effort to make the most impactful near-term progress on data protection.

Kelley said that while there is an ongoing debate about domestic data privacy legislation, there is more consensus about dealing with protecting U.S. data abroad.

She said there must be an assumption that countries of concern will find a way to obtain sensitive, personal and government information that is available, and the U.S. is in a position where it must make it as difficult as possible for those countries to do that.

Paul Triolo, technology policy leader at Albright Stonebridge Group, told VOA’s Mandarin service the United States and other governments “are undoubtedly attempting to do the same thing with respect to China, leveraging both openly available and clandestinely collected data sources.”

Triolo also pointed to potential problems of data restrictions.

“The danger of controlling healthcare and genomic data too restrictively is that citizens in both China and the U.S. could lose out on advances in healthcare coming from large scale analysis of data, conducted under carefully managed data privacy and auditing conditions, that can lead to breakthroughs in treatment, leveraging a variety of AI algorithms, for example, to make linkages and extract new insights from clinical data,” Triolo said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters

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