Biden Acts to Stop Sales of Sensitive Personal Data to China and Russia

President Biden will issue an executive order Wednesday seeking to restrict the sale of sensitive American data to China, Russia and four more countries, a first-of-its-kind attempt to keep personally identifying information from being obtained for blackmail, scams or other harm.

The president will ask the Justice Department to write rules restricting the sale of information about Americans’ locations, health and genetics to China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, as well as any entities linked to those countries. The restrictions would also cover financial information, biometric data and other types of information that could identify individuals and sensitive information related to the government.

The White House said this kind of sensitive data could be used for blackmail, “especially for those in the military or national security community,” and against dissidents, journalists and academics.

The new restrictions would be the United States’ first-ever broad prohibition on the sale of digital data to individual countries in an era when companies known as data brokers assemble huge amounts of information on people, from favorite hobbies to household income and health conditions, and then typically sell it to marketers that target them with ads.

A senior administration official said during a call with reporters that countries like China and Russia were buying that kind of data from brokers, as well as obtaining it through other corporate relationships. The officials said the countries were using their access to the data for blackmail and surveillance and could employ artificial intelligence to enhance their use of the information. The White House made the officials available on the condition of anonymity.

The executive order is also the latest escalation of a digital cold war between Washington and Beijing. The United States has cut Chinese hardware manufacturers off from crucial supplies and tried to force the sale of TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. In August, Mr. Biden put restrictions in place to make it harder for American investors to put money into the development of sensitive technology, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing, inside China.

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