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US to limit sale of personal data to foreign adversaries

US President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order aimed at limiting the flow of sensitive US personal data abroad.

A data center: Network cables plugged into a server. — © Michael Bocchieri/AFP/Getty Images
A data center: Network cables plugged into a server. — © Michael Bocchieri/AFP/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order Wednesday aimed at limiting the flow of sensitive US personal data abroad — amid concerns they could be misused by countries including China.

Biden will direct the Justice Department to issue rules protecting Americans’ sensitive personal information — such as genomic, biometric and geolocation data — from “access and exploitation by countries of concern,” said a White House fact sheet.

These countries could include China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

“The sale of Americans’ data raises significant privacy, counterintelligence, blackmail risks and other national security risks — especially for those in the military or national security community,” according to the White House.

It added that countries of concern could also seek to collect information on activists, journalists, dissidents and political figures to intimidate opponents and curb dissent.

US President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order aimed at restricting sales of Americans' sensitive personal data abroad

US President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order aimed at restricting sales of Americans’ sensitive personal data abroad – Copyright AFP/File Jim WATSON

Biden will also direct the Justice Department to work with Homeland Security in preventing foreign adversaries from accessing citizens’ data through commercial means, including data available via investment and employment ties.

But these moves should not stop the flow of information needed for financial services activities or aim to decouple US economic, scientific and trade relationships with other countries, the White House said.

In a separate statement on Wednesday Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said: “Hostile foreign powers are weaponizing bulk data and the power of artificial intelligence to target Americans.”

Olsen, of the department’s national security division, added that the announcement “fills a key gap in our national security authorities.”

But The Software Alliance (BSA), a lobby for major data cloud companies, warned that the executive order “may produce significant unintended consequences,” to the extent that it covers a wide range of legitimate commercial and research activity.

“Policymakers worldwide should exercise caution before introducing restrictions that could have a wide-ranging impact across different industries,” said the grouping’s senior vice president of global policy, Aaron Cooper.

The executive order on data transfers is the latest in a series of controls targeting tech sectors.

In August last year, Biden issued an executive order aimed at restricting certain US investments in sensitive high-tech areas in China such as quantum computing.

Washington has also unveiled restrictions on the export of advanced chips to China, including those used in the development of artificial intelligence.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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