Uncle Sam tells nosy nations to keep their hands off Americans' personal data

Biden readies executive order targeting China, Russia, and pals

US President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that aims to prevent the sale or transfer of Americans' sensitive personal information and government-related data to adversarial countries including China and Russia.

In addition to the executive order, the White House will propose regulations that prohibit companies from directly or indirectly transferring large amounts of certain types of data to so-called "countries of concern" – China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela – according to a senior administration official.

The concern is that these countries, which can legally buy Americans' sensitive information from data brokers and others, will use this to undermine national security.

The categories of data included in the proposed data-transfer ban include genomic data, biometric identifiers, precise geolocation data, personal health data, personal financial data, specific personal identifiers, and certain sensitive government-related data, we're told.

It will include exemptions for certain routine commercial translations and other activities related to business operations within multinational corporations such as payroll.

And it's unlikely to take effect anytime soon.

First, the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Federal Register, and then the proposed regulation will undergo at least two rounds of public comment – so companies will have plenty of time to weigh in on the new data protection law.

Once the rule does become law, it will be enforced by the US Justice Department.

Currently there's a gap in US law that this data protection program aims to fill, according to a senior DoJ official on a call with reporters.

"No existing authority or law comprehensively addresses the national security risk posed by access to countries of concern to sensitive personal data through routine commercial transactions," the senior official said.


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"Countries are leveraging their access to Americans' bulk sensitive personal data, and government-related data to engage in a variety of nefarious activities, including malicious cyber-enabled activities, espionage, and blackmail," the official added.

The White House is also concerned about certain countries using this data to train AI models and influence groups of people in the US and abroad. Plus, it can be used to collect information on activists, journalists, dissidents, and politicians, which then can be used for intimidation, prosecution or worse.

Today's actions are "not a substitute" for a national data privacy law, the senior administration official said. "President Biden continues to urge Congress to pass comprehensive bipartisan privacy legislation."

We don't suggest holding your breath for that one. ®

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