Biden signs executive order to stop Russia and China from buying Americans’ personal data

President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at limiting the bulk sale of Americans’ personal data to “countries of concern” including Russia and China. The order specifically targets the mass sale of geolocation, genomic, financial, biometric, health and other personally identifiable information.

During a briefing with journalists, a senior administration official said that the sale of such information to these countries poses a national security risk. “Our existing policies and laws allow open access to large amounts of America’s sensitive personal information,” the official said. “The acquisition of data through data brokers is currently legal in the United States, and this represents a gap in our national security tools that we are trying to fill with this program.”

Researchers and privacy advocates have long warned of national security risks posed by an unregulated multibillion-dollar data brokerage industry. Last fall, researchers He said they were able to easily obtain personal and health information about US military personnel while posing as foreign agents.

Biden’s executive order seeks to address such scenarios. It prohibits data brokers and other companies from selling large amounts of Americans’ personal data, directly or indirectly, to countries or entities in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. There will likely be additional restrictions on companies’ ability to sell data as part of cloud service contracts, investment contracts, and employment contracts.

While the White House described the move as “the most significant executive action any President has ever taken to protect the security of Americans’ data,” it’s unclear exactly how the new policies will be implemented within the Justice Department. A DoJ official said the executive order would require data brokers to do due diligence to verify who they are dealing with, as companies are expected to comply with US sanctions.

As the White House notes, there are currently few regulations in place for the multi-billion dollar data brokerage industry. The order will do nothing to slow the bulk sale of Americans’ data to countries or companies not considered a security risk. “President Biden continues to urge Congress to do its part, and especially to pass comprehensive bipartisan privacy legislation to keep our children safe,” the White House said in a statement.

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