U.S. strengthens personal data protection, violating Chinese apps may be subpoenaed, blocked

Reuters reported on June 18, citing sources, that President Joe Biden’s previously announced executive order to protect sensitive U.S. personal data could force Chinese mobile apps operating in the United States to adopt stricter measures to safeguard personal data or be banned from operating in the United States.

The Commerce Department may issue subpoenas to collect information about certain smartphone, tablet and desktop computer software applications, according to people familiar with the matter. The Commerce Department may then negotiate the terms of using these apps in the U.S. or ban them.

Apps owned or controlled by entities accused of supporting the military or intelligence activities of U.S. competitors could be affected, the report said. The U.S. action is intended to prevent countries such as China and Russia from gaining access to large amounts of U.S. personal and business information.

The move comes after Biden signed a new executive order on June 9 to revoke a series of Trump administration-era bans on TikTok, the overseas version of ShakeYin, and WeChat, the overseas version of WeChat. He also ordered the U.S. Department of Commerce to conduct a new assessment of security risks for apps from foreign adversaries, specifying that they include China.

A person familiar with the matter said many of the concerns raised when Trump ordered the TikTok ban were shared by many current U.S. officials. They are particularly concerned that China could track the location of U.S. government employees, build profiles of personal information for extortion and conduct commercial espionage.

According to people familiar with the matter, the U.S. Commerce Department may discuss with app providers the terms of their operations in the United States, or announce a ban. WeChat, TikTok and eight other softwares targeted by the Trump administration are eligible for review by Biden’s team, the report said. A source said U.S. officials have begun discussions with allies about taking a similar approach. They hope partner countries will agree on the apps that should be banned.

It is understood that U.S. Commerce Secretary Raimondo (Gina Raimondo) will decide which applications the United States will act against, but they must meet certain criteria. For example, they must be owned, controlled or managed by a person or entity that supports the military or intelligence activities of a foreign adversary like China or Russia.