President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday (June 9) reversing a Trump administration-era ban on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat, while requiring an assessment of the security risks posed by apps from foreign rivals like China. Analysts say the new executive order sets up better standards and procedures, and that things aren’t over for TikTok and WeChat.
Biden’s executive order rescinds and replaces three executive orders signed by former President Donald Trump that declared Americans prohibited from doing business with TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese mobile apps for national security reasons.
TikTok is an overseas version of China’s ByteDance short-video sharing platform Jitterbug, which is popular in overseas markets such as the U.S. WeChat is an overseas version of China’s Tencent social media platform WeChat, which also has many users in the U.S., including the Chinese community.
The White House said the new executive order directs the Commerce Department to conduct security assessments of software applications that are linked to foreign adversaries and take action as appropriate. The assessment involves software applications designed, developed, manufactured or supplied by foreign adversaries, such as China, that may pose an “undue or unacceptable” risk to the United States and U.S. persons.
According to the White House fact sheet, the executive order provides criteria for determining whether a software application poses an unacceptable risk, such as when the software application is owned, controlled, and managed “in support of the military or intelligence activities of a foreign adversary, or to engage in malicious cyber operations, or to collect sensitive user data,” transactions with such applications would be considered potentially The company’s business is considered to be at “higher risk”.
Former President Trump issued two executive orders last August prohibiting any person or company under U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in any transactions with TikTok or WeChat and their parent companies. The two bans were blocked in court and never went into effect. Trump also issued another executive order in January before he left office that banned Americans from dealing with Alipay, Tencent QQ and eight other Chinese software applications, but the related bans were never issued.
Asked at a Wednesday telephone briefing whether the Biden administration still intended to block TikTok and WeChat, a senior administration official said all mobile apps listed on the rescinded executive order would be reviewed under the current process.
The White House official said the CIFIUS investigation of TikTok remains active and ongoing.
The Biden administration is committed to promoting an open, interactive, reliable and secure Internet; protecting human rights online and offline; and supporting a vibrant global digital economy,” the White House said in a fact sheet. Certain countries, including the People’s Republic of China, do not share these values and seek to exploit digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that pose unacceptable risks to national security while advancing their authoritarian control and interests.”
Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University, said President Trump has signed four executive orders on protecting information, and Biden has only rescinded the latter three against Chinese apps such as TikTok and WeChat.
The Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain executive order, which Trump signed in May 2019, declared a national emergency in response to foreign adversaries to threats to U.S. information and communications technology and services, and authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to prohibit transactions that pose an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security or the safety of U.S. residents.
Biden has not revoked the basic framework that requires the U.S. government to prevent the transfer of information to foreign adversaries,” Gujulen told Voice of America. In any case, in theory, he still has the authority to take action against those companies and others that pose a potential threat to U.S. personal data.”
Some analysts believe the Biden administration is attempting to develop better mechanisms in identifying and responding to national security concerns, so that a potential subsequent ban would withstand judicial challenges.
James Lewis, director of the strategic science and technology program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the court struck down Trump’s ban as “arbitrary and capricious” and that Biden’s new executive order provides a strong basis for Biden’s new executive order provides a strong basis and clear standards for decision-making.
The executive order puts us in a better position by setting strong standards and a good decision-making process,” he told Voice of America via email. This means that TikTok will likely go through another round of review, and that any decision will not be easily challenged in court. This is the beginning of the second round, and TikTok may not get away with it so easily this time.”
“The story is not over yet.” He added.
TikTok and WeChat have not yet been seen commenting on Biden’s latest announcement.
The WeChat Users Coalition, which filed a tell-all against the ban, welcomed Biden’s approach. Michael Bien, the lead attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the coalition, told Reuters that the ban “would shut down a major communications platform that millions of people in the United States rely on as never before.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which opposes the bans on TikTok and WeChat for free speech reasons, tweeted that the next review by the U.S. Department of Commerce “must not be a smokescreen for future bans or other illegal actions that would lead us down the same path.
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Texas) said he thought Biden had made a “big mistake” by revoking the ban. He tweeted, “(It) shows a worrying complacency about China’s access to Americans’ personal information and China’s growing corporate influence.”
Biden’s new executive order calls for the U.S. Department of Commerce to work with other federal departments and agencies to make recommendations on how to protect Americans’ personal and sensitive information from foreign adversaries and how the executive and legislative branches can take further countermeasures. The executive order also directs the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide the Commerce Department with relevant risk and security vulnerability assessments within 60 days.