On Wednesday Jun 9th, President Joe Biden revoked an executive order by his processor banning popular apps TikTok and WeChat. The White House said former president Donald Trump sought to ban the two Chinese owned apps over national security concerns.
At the same time, the Biden administration would carry out a “criteria-based decision framework and rigorous, evidence-based analysis”. Such analysis will address the risks from using foreign owned internet applications, rather than banning the popular apps. This is according to a White House statement.
National security risks
The former president claimed the apps posed national security risks. Based on his claim, Trump pushed to force the sale of TikTok to a US entity. TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps according to US investors. The company is owned by China-based ByteDance.
The force sale effort by Trump’s administration only brought on a series of legal challenges. As a result, tensions between Washington and Beijing increased. Also, the legal challenges delayed the efforts to ban or force the sale of the applications.
Both the two companies, TikTok and WeChat, did not give immediate comments on the revocation.
However, President Biden issued a new executive order. It cited an “ongoing emergency” related to “the continuing effort of foreign adversaries to steal or otherwise obtain United States persons’ data”. It also called for a four-month review of the apps.
Bobby Chesney, University of Texas law professor following national security issues, calls the Biden order “a good middle path”.
Chesney tweeted “They affirmed the nature of the threat and the propriety of using sanctions to address it, and they have held the door open for reimposing some version of these sanctions … but likely with a far stronger and more defensible record.”
Biden’s order stopped short of cancelling a review of the 2017 purchase of TikTok forerunner Musical.ly by ByteDance. This is according to White House officials.
In a blog post, Chesney said “It would be premature to celebrate; Bytedance remains subject to an entirely separate CFIUS divestment order.” The post refers to the intergovernmental Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Currently, the committee is carrying out the review.
“Today’s action by President Biden does nothing to change that. Of course, it could be that this too will change,” he added.
Identifying any connected software applications that may pose an unacceptable risk to US national security and the American people is sought in Biden’s order.
This includes applications that are owned, controlled, or managed by intelligence activities or people that support foreign adversary military. It also relates to applications that collect sensitive personal data and malicious cyber activities.
In the new Presidential order, the Commerce Department and other federal agencies will have to develop guidelines. Such guidelines are to protect sensitive personal data from misuse. This includes genetic information and personally identifiable information.
Attempt to obtain TikTok
Around one billion people worldwide are believed to use TikTok. This figure includes over 100 million in the United States alone. The app is very popular with young smartphone users.
TikTok requested blocking the effort to ban downloads of the app in the US last September. This request resulted in the issuance of a temporary injunction by US District Judge Carl Nichols.
Trump approved a plan to sell TikTok to US tech giant Oracle with investments from retail powerhouse Walmart. However, the deal did not receive approval from Beijing.
A section of the Chinese tech giant Tencent, WeChat, is used for social networking, messaging, e-commerce and more. Labelled as a “super app”, WeChat is massively popular worldwide.
A similar lawsuit from US users claiming the ban infringed on their rights also delayed the ban on WeChat.
Timing of Biden’s revocation
Biden’s revocation of Trump’s executive order on TikTok and WeChat is rather untimely. It comes a day after the US Senate voted 68-32 to pass a “US Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA)” bill. This bill is a countermeasure to an apparent increasing economic threat from China.
10th June 2021 23:00
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