On Aug. 6, the president of the United States signed two virtually identical executive orders (EOs) banning the use of both TikTok and WeChat. TikTok will survive due to a partnership deal with Oracle that as of this writing, the president has approved. But unless a federal judge issues a stay by the time you read this, WeChat will be officially banned.
Before we get into the details, I want to state for the record that this is an essay about data. It is not about the president’s political agenda. That topic is for others to discuss. Please take off your partisan hats and put on your “human being living in the 21st century” hats because there is no point in coloring this red or blue, or being willfully ignorant of this subject.
The perceived threat and the president’s solution
To save you some time, here are the first two paragraphs of the EO banning TikTok:
“I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, find that additional steps must be taken to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain declared in Executive Order 13873 of May 15, 2019 (Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain). Specifically, the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.
TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”
Please reread the paragraphs above. Specifically note that there is a declared national emergency regarding “the information and communications technology and services supply chain.” This declaration and citation can also be found in the EO banning WeChat.
The national emergency
In EO 13873 the president declares a national emergency as follows:
“I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, find that foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology and services, which store and communicate vast amounts of sensitive information, facilitate the digital economy, and support critical infrastructure and vital emergency services, in order to commit malicious cyber-enabled actions, including economic and industrial espionage against the United States and its people. I further find that the unrestricted acquisition or use in the United States of information and communications technology or services designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries augments the ability of foreign adversaries to create and exploit vulnerabilities in information and communications technology or services, with potentially catastrophic effects, and thereby constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. […] In light of these findings, I hereby declare a national emergency with respect to this threat.”