President Biden issues executive order to enhance sensitive data protection

Biden’s executive order requests stronger safeguards of US citizens and government officials’ personal data from ‘countries of concern.’

President Biden issued an executive order authorizing the Attorney General to prevent the large-scale transfer of US citizens’ personal data to, as the White House refers, ‘countries of concern.’ According to the AP News, the senior administration officials listed China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela under the ‘countries of concern.’

The executive order mainly focuses on commercial data brokers, which are legal in the US, that could sell US citizens’ and government officials’ personal data to ‘countries of concern.’ The White House warns that such data could end up in foreign military services, militaries, or other foreign government companies and thus infringe on US national security.

As such, the executive order requires the Department of Justice to issue regulations that establish greater protection for US citizens’ and government officials’ personal data, including genomic data, health data, geolocation data, financial data, and certain kinds of personal identifiers. Additionally, the Department of Justice is called to set high-security standards to prevent ‘countries of concern’ from accessing US citizens’ and government officials’ data through commercial means, including investments and employment relationships.

At the same time, President Biden clarified that such measures should not prevent the flow of information that could affect US’s substantial consumer, economic, scientific, and trade relationships with other countries.

Why does it matter?

The main issue the US is pointing out is that while data brokers are legal, hackers can still steal data. As reported by the Washington Post, for several years, federal officials have expressed concerns about data being stolen by hackers working for foreign governments to target US government officials. They claim that there is a risk of such data being misused to identify and target individuals.

At the same time, questions are raised about whether such a decision could impact the fragmentation of the internet, as the threshold of what constitutes a country of concern is unclear. Additionally, some analysts claimed that the order will probably be difficult to implement and enforce because the US government will have to find a way to track commercial data on a global scale.