President Biden on Wednesday revoked a Trump-era executive order that sought to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat and replaced it with one that calls for a broader review of a number of foreign-controlled applications that could pose a security risk to Americans and their data.
The Trump-era order had not been carried out “in the soundest fashion,” administration officials said in a call with reporters on Wednesday, adding that the new directive would establish “clear intelligible criteria” to evaluate national security risks posed by software applications connected to foreign governments, particularly China.
Mr. Biden’s directive is yet another designed to reassess executive orders made by his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, to curb the growing influence of the Chinese military and Beijing’s technology sector. It is also the first significant step Mr. Biden has taken to approach an ongoing saga between TikTok and the Trump administration, which tried to ban the app over concerns it posed to national security, and was immediately challenged in federal court.
Analysts said the new executive order is meant to create a process that could withstand such a challenge.
“It’s a bit of a troll to the Trump administration approach,” said Brian J. Fleming, an attorney who focuses on national security and international trade matters, “which was exposed in court as being a bit of a hollow process that was completely outcome driven.”
The Biden administration has worked to reassess several directives Mr. Trump made to curb China’s influence, and in several cases has taken a more aggressive approach. Last week, Mr. Biden expanded a Trump-era order by barring Americans from investing in Chinese firms linked to the country’s military or engaged in selling surveillance technology.
It is unclear how effective either order will ultimately be at stopping the spread of Chinese espionage technology, and does not fully resolve the future of TikTok, a wildly popular app with 100 million American users. In September, the Trump administration followed through with an executive order banning operations of TikTok and WeChat, the popular messaging service owned by Tencent. A judge granted an injunction of the Trump order, giving TikTok a lifeline until November.
At the same time, the Trump administration took on the role of dealmaker. It said TikTok could maintain U.S. operations only if it sold itself to a U.S. company and shed all Chinese-based infrastructure and ties. After rushed bids and jockeying by tech giants, Oracle and Walmart won their bid to buy a stake in the company for an undisclosed amount. Mr. Trump then rejected the deal that his administration had orchestrated.
TikTok’s woes subsided with Mr. Trump’s election defeat. Though the company is still under scrutiny with the Biden administration’s new executive order, analysts say the dramatic ups and downs for the company will significantly subside.
James Lewis, a senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Biden administration has shown no easing of the government’s strong stance against China. But the new executive order lays out much more precise criteria for weighing risks posed by TikTok and other companies owned by foreign adversaries like China.
“They are taking the same direction as the Trump administration but in some ways tougher, in a more orderly fashion and implemented in a good way,” Mr. Lewis said. Mr. Lewis added that Mr. Biden’s order was stronger than the Trump-era directive because “it’s coherent, not random.”
On Wednesday, administration officials would not go into specifics about the future of TikTok’s availability to American users or say whether the United States government would seek to compel ByteDance to transfer American user data to a company based in the United States. Amid a number of successful legal challenges waged by ByteDance, a deal to transfer the data to Oracle fell through this year shortly after Mr. Biden took office.
Administration officials said that a review of TikTok by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the body that considers the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies, was still continuing and separate from the order.
Several apps, including TikTok, WeChat, and AliPay, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The order issued Wednesday was also meant to broaden one issued in 2019 by the Trump administration, which banned American telecommunications companies from installing foreign-made equipment that could pose a threat to national security. That order did not name specific companies, nor did the one Mr. Biden issued on Wednesday.
The new directive also does not mention specific retaliatory measures that could be taken if an application is found to be a threat to national security.
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