US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday that puts a stop to Trump’s attempts to ban Chinese apps, such as TikTok and WeChat. However, scrutiny of applications owned or controlled by Chinese tech companies will continue under the Biden administration. The President instructed the Secretary of Commerce to investigate whether the apps really pose a national security threat. He has to provide recommendations within the next 120 days.
Social Media Feud
It’s no secret that former President Trump has had several feuds with social media. Among other things, he tried to regulate social media platforms, so they could no longer remove or label messages as they see fit. This after Twitter and Facebook repeatedly removed messages from the former President and placed warnings on several of his tweets and posts labelling them as potentially misleading.
Trump also wanted to end the platforms’ immunity clause, which is enshrined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. This law helped shape the social media landscape we know today. This is because the clause offers a degree of immunity to social media platforms. Meaning that not the platform, but users are ultimately responsible and liable for the messages they post.
Nonetheless, the same article also obliges social media to intervene if they find that users have published ‘reprehensible content’. This includes glorification of terrorism, child pornography, or copyrighted material. In reality, both sides of the political landscape are unhappy with the law, for very different reasons. Repealing it outright is not viable, but an update or clarification is needed.
Trump also struggled with Chinese-made applications, such as TikTok. The former President gave owner ByteDance 45 days – later extended to 90 days – to divest TikTok’s US operations. According to former President Trump, the app poses a threat to the national security of the US. He also said it shares American citizens’ personal information with the Chinese Communist Party.
In addition, the former President argued that the Chinese government can force companies to share data with them. This is seen as a serious privacy concern. Reason enough for Trump to sign an executive order on August 6, 2020 to ban the use of TikTok unless the company were to be owned by an American organization.
TikTok challenged the former President’s executive order in court. The lawyer argued that TikTok had taken ‘extraordinary measures’ to protect the privacy and security of personal data. The court later ruled that Trump’s intended ban went too far. There was no concrete evidence that TikTok was guilty of spying for the Chinese government. And a ban would also violate freedom of expression. Therefore, the judge blocked Trump’s order, which meant it never came into force.
President Joe Biden’s executive order now puts an end to Trump’s plans. This means that he lifted the potential download and user ban of TikTok, WeChat and other applications owned or controlled by Chinese tech companies. In the final days of his presidency, Trump also targeted Chinese apps like Alipay, QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay. China then accused the US of being a bully and abusing its powers.
The president has ordered the Secretary of Commerce to investigate security concerns surrounding TikTok and WeChat. Within 60 days, he has to provide vulnerability assessments. Next, the Secretary of Commerce has another 60 days to develop a report, including recommendations to protect the personal data of US citizens from “foreign adversaries”.
The Department must also conduct an “ongoing” review of all transactions that may pose “an undue risk or can have catastrophic effects on the security and resilience of the critical infrastructure or digital economy of the US”. Additionally, the US seeks to promote accountability for persons who own, control, or manage apps and engage in any way, shape or form in human rights abuse.