WHITLEY: Are Lawmakers Overlooking Domestic Data Threats By Focusing Too Much On China, TikTok?

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Jared Whitley Contributor
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We recently ran a column here about the Japanophobia driving some American opposition to Nippon Steel’s efforts to purchase the iconic U.S. Steel corporation. Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has been a stalwart American ally. Yet as evidenced by the Japanese company’s efforts to acquire an American one, the distrust of that Asian nation hasn’t completely diminished.

In a similar vein, support for anything perceived as pro-China is increasingly becoming a third rail on Capitol Hill. The anti-China sentiment shared by Democrats and Republicans alike is producing a number of aggressive legislative efforts to decouple our economic and business relationships with China. 

But a common blunder made by great powers that feel threatened is to take “action it believes will prevent a rising power from surpassing its position but in fact hastening the very reversal of fortune it most fears.” At least that’s according to Graham Allison in his book on American and Chinese rivalry, “Destined for War.” 

Is the U.S. government making this blunder now? 

Perhaps no story has received more attention than the TikTok debate, as in, whether or not the U.S. government should force a sale of Chinese-owned TikTok to an American owner. While TikTok may just be an app on Millennial’s and Gen Z’s phones for mass consumption of dumb and mind-numbing short videos, there are some very legitimate concerns, particularly when you start looking at the differences between U.S. and Chinese content. This is why Florida’s recent legislation, which bans children under the age of 14 from having a social media account, is a good national model. 

The other concern with TikTok is the danger of Americans’ sensitive personal information being shared with the Chinese government, who could undoubtedly use that information for nefarious purposes. This is why I am a strong supporter of legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March to protect American’s data from foreign adversaries like China and Iran.  

According to the two lead sponsors of the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act of 2024, Republican Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers and Democratic New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, “we will not allow our adversaries to undermine American national security and individual privacy by purchasing people’s personally identifiable sensitive information from data brokers.” This makes perfect sense, and I hope this bipartisan legislation becomes law. 

Our lawmakers in Washington are also crafting bills to blacklist a handful of genomic research and manufacturing companies, because they or their parent company are based in China. While the instinct to protect our citizen’s genetic information from foreign militaries is absolutely correct, banning companies from operating in the U.S. without due process could create retaliatory risks.

If the goal is in fact to protect the genetic privacy of Americans, then the U.S. should create a set of standards and requirements that apply consistently to all companies with access to this sensitive genomic data. 

Keep in mind, some of the largest holders of Americans’ genetic data are genealogy companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com was reportedly hacked in 2014, and 23AndMe was allegedly the victim of a data breach that may impact as many as 6.9 million users, according to a class action lawsuit filed in Oct. 2023.

The lawsuit says data lost included sex, location, genetic information and pictures. From Bloomberg: “Some of the information has appeared for sale online, including that of prominent figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Sergey Brin, according to a press account cited in the lawsuit.” In other words, it might be safe to assume that no genetic data stored by any corporation – owned in the U.S., China, or anywhere else – is secure. 

Ultimately, protecting American’s personal data from foreign adversaries must happen, and our lawmakers must make smart and strategic choices. U.S. policy on data security must take concrete steps to protect critical data and establish national standards to ensure all companies use those protocols before being allowed to access genomic data of Americans. This will benefit American businesses and solidify their market dominance. This is critical, as our strong economy is what gives us the strength to resist repressive regimes like China. 

In our rivalry with China, we must not hasten the very reversal of fortune we most fear.

Jared Whitley is an award-winning columnist and D.C. politico, having worked in the U.S. Senate, White House and defense industry. He has an MBA from Hult Business School in Dubai.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.