Biden withdrawing Trump orders that sought to ban WeChat and TikTok

Joe Biden is withdrawing a series of executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of WeChat and TikTok and ordering a new commerce department review of security concerns posed by those apps, the White House said on Wednesday.

The administration of the previous president, Donald Trump, had attempted to block new users from downloading the apps and ban other technical transactions that Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat both said would effectively block the apps’ use in the US. The courts blocked those orders that never took effect.

Biden’s new executive order revokes the WeChat and TikTok orders, along with another in January that targeted eight other communications and financial technology software applications.

A separate US national security review of TikTok remains ongoing, a White House official said.

On 6 August 2020, Trump published executive orders targeting the viral video app TikTok and messaging app WeChat.

The orders declared that the two apps would be blocked from processing transactions for US citizens and from being downloaded in US app stores after 45 days, or on 20 September, due to security concerns.

On 14 August, Trump said in a separate executive order that TikTok would face a complete ban if it did not sell to a US company by 14 November.

Lawyers for the Trump administration said it was in the interest of national security to ban TikTok due to links between ByteDance, the app’s parent company, and the Chinese government.

The orders were then blocked by a US court.

A separate US national security review of TikTok launched in late 2019 remains active, a White House official said, declining to offer any details.

The White House remains very concerned about the data risks of TikTok users, another administration official told reporters.

TikTok declined to comment. WeChat did not immediately comment.

Biden’s new executive order revokes the WeChat and TikTok orders Trump issued in August, along with another in January that targeted eight other communications and financial technology software applications.

The January order directed officials to ban transactions with eight Chinese apps including Ant Group’s Alipay, Tencent’s QQ Wallet and WeChat pay; no bans have been issued to date.

The Trump administration contended that WeChat and TikTok posed national security concerns with the threat that the sensitive personal data of US users could be collected by China*s government.

TikTok, which has over 100 million users in the United States, and WeChat have denied posing national security concerns.

The Trump administration had appealed judicial orders blocking the bans on TikTok and WeChat, but after Biden took office in January, the justice department asked to pause the appeals.

A spokesman for the DoJ declined to comment. Status reports are due in the appeals cases on Friday.

Biden’s order says collecting of data from Americans “threatens to provide foreign adversaries with access to that information”.

The order directs the commerce department to “evaluate on a continuing basis” any transactions that “pose an undue risk of catastrophic effects on the security or resiliency of the critical infrastructure or digital economy of the United States.”

Biden’s executive order also directs the commerce department within 120 days to make recommendations to protect US data acquired or accessible by companies controlled by foreign adversaries.

Last week, Biden signed an executive order that bans US investment in certain Chinese companies in the defense and surveillance technology sectors.

The order replaced a similar Trump-era order that did not withstand legal scrutiny.

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