President Joe Biden on Wednesday withdrew a series of Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of WeChat and TikTok, and ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns posed by those apps and others.
The administration of former 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 United States.
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The courts blocked those orders, which never took effect.
A separate US national security review of TikTok launched in late 2019 remains active and ongoing, 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 and Tencent Holdings Ltd’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.
Both 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 US Justice Department asked to pause the appeals.
A spokesman for the US Department of Justice 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."
Republican Senator Josh Hawley said on Twitter the withdrawal of the Trump orders are "a major mistake -- shows alarming complacency regarding #China’s access to Americans’ personal information, as well as #China’s growing corporate influence."
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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