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Administration Plans Executive Order to Protect Americans' Personal Data from Foreign Access

The administration will release an executive order designed to keep personal data about Americans out of the hands of “countries of concern,” according to news reports in late January. Because data brokers (and others) increasingly have access to – and can trade in – information such as location data, genetic details, and other personal matters, it is easy for foreign governments to buy and use them for espionage, blackmail, and other nefarious purposes. Moreover, with AI tools, such data is increasingly easy to mine and exploit.

Why It Matters

Any effort to stop foreign access to US data through legitimate transactions will have likely knock-on effects for legitimate US business activity centered on such data. Because news reports indicate that the Executive Order could center on data brokers, investment agreements, employment agreements, and vendor agreements, there is a huge swath of potential commercial activity that could be roped into a new compliance/security scheme by such an order.   

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The draft order focuses on ways that foreign adversaries are gaining access to Americans’ “highly sensitive” personal data — from genetic information to location — through legal means. That includes obtaining information through intermediaries, such as data brokers, third-party vendor agreements, employment agreements or investment agreements, according to a draft of the proposed order. In addition, organizations owned, controlled or operated by “countries of concern” are often obligated to hand such data over to the government when asked. The document Bloomberg obtained didn’t name specific foreign adversaries.


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