The Biden administration is planning action to prevent hostile foreign governments from misusing Americans’ data.
According to one current and one former US source familiar with the topic, the Biden administration is considering an executive order to limit foreign governments’ access to sensitive personal data on Americans, which might damage national security.
Foreign efforts to exploit Americans’ data pose an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security and foreign policy, according to the draft wording of the directive.
The regulation, which sources said might be completed and announced in the coming weeks, tasked US officials with imposing additional restrictions on transactions for personal data that are currently easily and lawfully obtained online. According to authorities, the order will cover cellphone location data, genetic information, and health records, all of which might enable foreign intelligence services to develop a thorough picture of US government employees.
Bloomberg News was first to report on the potential executive order.
CNN contacted the White House National Security Council for comment on the draft executive order.
A increase in the quantity of sensitive personal information on US residents that can be purchased and sold online has startled lawmakers and senior US officials concerned about national security. The issue is that US rivals, particularly China, are supplementing traditional sources of intelligence such as codebreaking and human sources by just going online and purchasing it.
A US intelligence study declassified last year described personal data for sale online as a “increasingly powerful” instrument for intelligence gathering by US and foreign espionage agencies, but it also poses a privacy concern to regular citizens.
“If reports are true, the White House is doing the right thing by taking steps to protect Americans’ sensitive data from being sent in bulk to foreign countries without strong privacy rules,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has sponsored legislation to limit the sale of Americans’ personal data, said in a statement.
Wyden expressed optimism that the final text of the executive order would apply, among other things, to data kept by US subsidiaries of international firms. He cited TikTok, a phenomenally popular social media network with operations in the United States but a parent firm based in China.
A large portion of the online trade in personal information occurs through so-called data brokers, who purchase information on people’s Social Security numbers, names, residences, income, job history, criminal past, and other details. The data can be used to conduct legitimate information surveys, such as background checks and credit checks, but it can also be used for surveillance purposes if misused.
In a November study released by Duke University, researchers discovered that the apparent home addresses and health conditions of thousands of active-duty US military troops may be purchased cheaply online via data brokers.
“To the Chinese and Russian governments, it would be child’s play to set up a front website or company, deceive some US data brokers, and purchase sensitive data about clearance-holders or other Americans of interest,” Justin Sherman, the Duke study’s leader, told CNN on Tuesday.
Sherman stated that any US policy response must “develop the right regulatory regime and risk criteria to understand which data transactions and activities pose unacceptably great risks.”