WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday withdrew a series of Trump-era executive orders seeking to ban new downloads from WeChat and TikTok, and ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns raised by those apps and others.
The administration of former President Donald Trump had attempted to block new users from downloading the apps and banning other technical transactions that the Chinese-owned short video sharing app TikTok and WeChat said would effectively block use of the apps on the apps. USA.
The courts blocked those orders, which never went into effect.
A separate US national security review of TikTok, released in late 2019, is still active and ongoing, said a White House official, declining to provide details. The White House remains highly concerned about data risks for TikTok users, another administration official told reporters.
Biden’s order directs the Commerce Department to monitor software applications such as TikTok that could affect US national security, as well as to make recommendations within 120 days to protect acquired US data. or accessible by companies controlled by foreign adversaries.
TikTok declined to comment. WeChat did not immediately comment.
WeChat, which has been downloaded at least 19 million times by US users, is widely used as a medium for services, games, and payments.
Michael Bien, the lead attorney for the WeChat Users Alliance, who had filed a lawsuit to block Trump’s order, praised the Biden administration for repealing the “misguided WeChat ban that … would have led to the unprecedented shutdown of a major platform. of communications “. trusted by millions of people in the United States. “
Biden’s new executive order revokes the WeChat and TikTok orders that Trump issued in August, along with another in January that targeted eight other communications and fintech software applications.
Trump’s January order ordered officials to ban transactions with eight Chinese apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd’s QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay; to date no bans have been issued.
The Trump administration maintained that WeChat and TikTok raised national security concerns that the Chinese government could collect sensitive personal data from American users.
Both TikTok, which has more than 100 million users in the United States, and WeChat have denied raising national security concerns.
In February, Reuters reported that corporate backers returned to TikTok after some halted or delayed their efforts following Trump’s announcement in August. General Motors’ Chevrolet flagship brand began advertising on TikTok in February through its own channel.
The Trump administration had appealed court orders blocking TikTok and WeChat bans, but after Biden took office in January, the US Department of Justice asked to pause the appeals.
A spokesman for the US Department of Justice declined to comment. Reports on the status of appeal cases are due on Friday.
Biden’s order says that the collection of data from Americans “threatens to provide foreign adversaries with access to that information.”
The order directs the Commerce Department to “continually evaluate” any transaction that “poses an undue risk of catastrophic effects on the security or resilience of critical infrastructure or the digital economy of the United States.”
Biden’s executive order requires within 60 days that US national security and intelligence agencies provide vulnerability and threat assessments on US data controlled by foreign adversaries to the Commerce Department while it conducts its review. .
Republican Senator Josh Hawley said on Twitter that the withdrawal of Trump’s orders is “a big mistake: it shows alarming complacency regarding #China’s access to Americans’ personal information, as well as # the growing corporate influence of # China”.
Last week, Biden signed an executive order prohibiting US investment in certain Chinese companies in the defense and surveillance technology sectors. The order replaced a similar Trump-era order that did not stand up to legal scrutiny. (Reporting by David Shepardson and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)