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Biden Rescinds Trump’s TikTok Ban, Orders Review of Foreign-Owned Apps

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House, May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday reversed an executive order signed by former president Donald Trump that would have effectively banned the Chinese video app TikTok, and replaced it with new guidelines for reviewing the app’s potential risk to U.S. consumer data. 

The move comes amid a Trump-era legal battle that the Biden administration inherited after the former president signed a slate of executive orders last year that sought to keep TikTok, WeChat, and other apps linked to China from operating in the U.S. TikTok sued last year to block the actions.

Biden’s new executive order creates a set of criteria to assess whether transactions involving software apps with ties to foreign adversaries pose a threat to Americans’ data. It also directs the Commerce Department to prescribe recommendations for regulatory and legislative action to “address the risk associated with foreign adversary connected software applications,” according to a White House news release.

“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.”

“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.

It continues: “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.”

Trump initially issued the ban that would have effectively halted the U.S. operations of TikTok in August 2020 as the administration and a number of lawmakers expressed concerns over potential national security risks posed by TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company, ByteDance, having access to U.S. user data.

The Commerce Department said in November under Trump that it would not implement an order “pending further legal developments.” The Department said it would delay enforcement of the order that would have prohibited U.S. companies from offering internet-hosting or content-delivery services to TikTok.

TikTok has said it does not and would not share U.S. user data with the Chinese Community Party.

However, Biden’s new order sparked backlash from Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and other China hawks.

“This is a major mistake — shows alarming complacency regarding #China’s access to Americans’ personal information, as well as #China’s growing corporate influence,” Hawley wrote in a tweet.

The president’s order comes one day after the Senate passed a bipartisan bill designed to counter and compete with China’s technological rise by investing more than $200 billion over the next five years into scientific research and technology.

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