US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Senate Minority Leader (LR) Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D -NY), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), on February 27, 2024 at the White House in Washington, DC.

Roberto Schmidt | Getty Images

US President Joe Biden will issue an executive order on Wednesday designed to protect the personal data of American citizens from countries deemed hostile.

The executive order focuses on the business of selling people’s personal information, in which companies and so-called data brokers collect and trade data. The Biden administration is worried that data brokers and other commercial entities will sell that information to “parties of concern — that have a track record of collecting and misusing data about Americans.”

Lawmakers and intelligence agencies have previously expressed concern that the Chinese Communist Party is amassing a wealth of American data that raises national security concerns.

The order focuses on specific, sensitive information such as genomic data, biometric data, personal health data, geolocation data, financial data and other types of personally identifiable information.

Hostile countries can use that data “to track Americans (including military personnel), invade their privacy, and pass that data on to other data brokers and foreign intelligence agencies,” according to the White House fact sheet.

“The sale of Americans’ data raises significant risks to privacy, counterintelligence, extortion and other national security risks — particularly to those in the military or national security community,” the White House said in a statement about the new EO

“Countries of concern may also access sensitive personal data of Americans to collect information on activists, academics, journalists, dissidents, political figures, and members of non-governmental organizations and marginalized communities to intimidate opponents of the countries, of concern, to limit dissent and to limit Americans’ Freedom of Expression and other civil liberties,” the White House said.

The executive order will direct the Department of Justice to issue several regulations designed to protect sensitive data. It would also instruct the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to “set high security standards to prevent parties of concern from accessing Americans’ data through other commercial means, such as data available through investments, vendors and labor relations”.

The order also directs the Foreign Investment in the United States Telecommunications Sector Assessment to “consider threats to Americans’ sensitive personal information” when reviewing submarine cable licenses.

“These actions are not only consistent with America’s long-standing support for the reliable free flow of data, but are also consistent with America’s commitment to an open Internet with strong and effective protections for people’s privacy and measures to preserve the ability of governments to to implement laws and progressive policies in the public interest,” the White House spokesperson wrote.

Last week, the Biden administration announced an executive order designed to improve cybersecurity at US ports. For example, government officials have said that 80 percent of port equipment known as ship-to-shore port cranes is made in China, and they are concerned that the equipment could be compromised and used for surveillance.

Congress also focused on the potential privacy risks posed by the data broker industry. Last May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent letters to more than 20 companies, such as Equifax and Oracle, asking for information about their data collection and distribution methods.

“American privacy concerns in the data broker industry are not new, and existing laws do not adequately protect Americans’ data from misuse,” the letter said.

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