The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday (June 21) formally withdrew, retroactive to June 16, Trump-era restrictions preventing certain transactions involving Chinese-owned smartphone apps WeChat and TikTok.
The Federal Register, the official log of government actions, disclosed the official policy change by posting on its website an early-release version of a Commerce Department document that is scheduled to be published on June 23. The Commerce Department action formalizes a rescinding of the regulations required by an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden on June 9.
The Commerce Department’s Federal Registry, which is set for publication this week, states in part: “Pursuant to Executive Order 14034 of June 9, 2021 (Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries), this document confirms that the Secretary of Commerce has rescinded two actions issued under now-revoked Executive Orders: the September 18, 2020 Identification of Prohibited Transactions related to TikTok, published on September 24, 2020, and the September 18, 2020 Identification of Prohibited Transactions related to WeChat filed for public inspection on September 18, 2020 and withdrawn before publication.”
The now-rescinded Trump orders sought to block U.S. downloading of certain Chinese-company apps that were declared to pose national security threats. None of the orders took effect because they were blocked by courts.
An August 6, 2020 order seeking to block TikTok usage was based on the premise that TikTok posed a security threat to the U.S. The order did not give extensive details about the alleged threats. A separate August 6, 2020 executive order placed similar restrictions on WeChat, also citing security concerns. Trump followed up with related orders in September.
Justifying the orders, the Trump administration wrote in one of them: “By operating on United States information and communications technology devices, including personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers, connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including United States persons’ personal information and proprietary business information. This data collection threatens to provide foreign adversaries with access to that information. Foreign adversary access to large repositories of United States persons’ data also presents a significant risk.”