House Passes Bill to Ban Sale of Americans’ Data to China, Other Foreign Adversaries

House Passes Bill to Ban Sale of Americans’ Data to China, Other Foreign Adversaries

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In a bipartisan measure, the House of Representatives unanimously pass a bill designed to protect the private information of all Americans by prohibiting data brokers from transferring that information to foreign adversaries such as China.

HR 7520, also known as the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act, passed in a 414–0 vote, with 18 members not voting.

The countries and entities currently designated by the Office of the Secretary of Commerce as “foreign adversaries” are China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and the Maduro Regime in Venezuela.

Sensitive data includes Social Security numbers, passport numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Data brokers are also prohibited from transferring any information related to someone’s physical or mental health.

The measure specifically prohibits the transmission of private communications such as text messages and phone call histories, as well as biometric and genetic data and precise geolocation information.

It also authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to seek civil penalties exceeding $50,000 for each violation.

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The legislation bolsters a Feb. 28 executive order signed by President Joe Biden, which “authorizes the Attorney General to prevent the large-scale transfer of Americans’ personal data.”

The day before the vote, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, delivered remarks on the House floor in support of the measure.

“National experts are sounding the alarm, warning that the government of Beijing and China and other foreign adversaries are amassing troves of sensitive data about individual Americans, and that information can be used to launch sophisticated influence campaigns, conduct espionage, undermine Americans’ privacy expectations, and otherwise impair American interests,” he said.

Bill Passage a ‘Key Step’

“Today’s overwhelming vote sends a clear message that 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.”

“H.R. 7520 is another key step towards strengthening data protections and safeguarding our nation from foreign adversaries,” they said further, adding that the measure “builds” on their efforts to see HR 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, become law, which would force a ban or sale of the social media platform TikTok. That measure passed the House on March 13 by a vote of 352–62 and was received by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on March 14.

“We’re encouraged by today’s strong vote, which should help build momentum to get this important bipartisan legislation, as well as more comprehensive privacy legislation, signed into law this Congress,” they said.

Ms. Rodgers and Mr. Pallone announced the legislation on March 5. Co-sponsors were Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), chairman of the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee; Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking member of the subcommittee; and Reps. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.).

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) outlines legislative efforts to lower fuel prices during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on April 28, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) outlines legislative efforts to lower fuel prices during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on April 28, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With their support, the measure was unanimously passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 50–0.

In a statement on social media following the bill’s passage, Ms. Schakowsky said people’s private information had been sold and traded without their knowledge for too long.

“I just voted to prevent data brokers from selling American data to adversaries, giving us more privacy online,” she said. “This is a good step, but we need comprehensive data privacy legislation.”

Mr. Allen told The Epoch Times that, as a co-sponsor of the bill, he was “proud to see its unanimous passage in the House of Representatives this week.”

“Data brokers collect an alarming amount of sensitive information on Americans, and it is a security threat for this data to be sold to our foreign adversaries, like China,” he said in a statement by email. “The Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act highlights Congress’ steadfast commitment to shielding Americans’ sensitive data from bad actors and rogue regimes, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to move quickly in passing this strong bipartisan bill and sending it to President Biden’s desk.”

Lawmakers ‘Waking Up’ to Data Dangers

Asked about the significance of the bill’s unanimous passage in the House, Jake Denton, a research associate in the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, said he thinks lawmakers are “waking up to the threat profile” of data.

“The big story here is that this comes on the heels of the TikTok legislation,” he told The Epoch Times, explaining that while the TikTok measure is focused on applications, HR 7520 targets data brokers. Data brokers, he explained, “is a sub-industry of the broader tech sector that is dedicated to collecting and screening consumer data and selling it to any party that will pay for it.”

“In many instances, that party is a foreign adversary,” he said.

A matter that Mr. Denton believes is often overlooked by most Americans and U.S. lawmakers is that the data being sold is not always as innocuous as an email address and phone number. In some cases, it can be as intimate as someone’s health records or military discharge records, things that are far more consequential not only for an individual’s personal security but for national security.

“That’s why this bill is critical,” he asserted. “It stops the flow to those adversary countries.”

He also said passage of this bill needs to be part of a larger conversation on whether the collection of data on American citizens should be done in the first place, let alone for the purposes of being sold to foreign adversaries.

“You can’t ignore the connection to the TikTok bill,” he noted, saying, “It follows a similar fact pattern.”

“What is different here is that it implicates American companies selling to these foreign adversaries rather than a foreign application that is collecting this data and sending it back home. We have American data brokerage firms that are collecting all sorts of terrible things on American people and sending it to foreign adversaries and allowing them to do whatever they want with it,” he said.

Moreover, he said that data collection and the data transfer have major implications for national security, and that lawmakers are finally beginning to understand.

“A unanimous vote is something to behold,” he noted, “and hopefully these bills pass [the Senate] just like the TikTok bill as well.”

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