Biden to issue executive order safeguarding American personal data from US adversaries

President Biden will issue an executive order Wednesday preventing large-scale transfers of Americans’ personal data to U.S. adversaries, such as Russia, China and Iran.

The executive order directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish protections for genomic data, biometric data, personal health data, geolocation data, financial data and sensitive government-related data.

“Our intelligence community has made clear that ‘our adversaries increasingly view data as a strategic resource,’” a senior Biden administration official said on a call with reporters Tuesday evening. 

“These 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 protections will block large-scale transfers of sensitive U.S. data to six countries of concern — China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. 

The senior administration official accused these countries of using U.S. data to collect information on activists, academics, journalists, dissidents, political figures and marginalized communities to intimidate opponents, curb dissent and limit Americans’ freedom of expression.

As companies increasingly collect vast amounts of data on Americans, they often sell and resell that data, which can sometimes “land in the hands of foreign intelligence services, militaries, or companies controlled by foreign governments,” according to a White House press release.

To prevent this, the Justice Department is considering prohibiting data brokerage and genomic data transactions with countries of concern, while placing some restrictions on vendor, employment and investment agreements, a senior DOJ official told reporters.

“I think we will make it significantly more challenging for our adversaries to obtain this data in the big scale and in the degree of comprehensiveness that is most acute for the risks we’re trying to address,” the DOJ official said.

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