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U.S. lawmakers unveil bill barring U.S. data flows to high-risk countries


FILE PHOTO: A computer network cable is seen above a Chinese flag in this July 12, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo

By Alexandra Alper and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation on Thursday that would give the Biden administration the power to block exports of U.S. personal data to countries like China that they say pose national security risks.

    The bill, co-sponsored by Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, aims to protect Americans’ sensitive personal information from being sold or transferred to high-risk foreign countries.

“Right now it’s perfectly legal for a company in China to buy huge databases of sensitive information from data brokers about the movements or health records of millions of Americans, and then share that information with the Chinese government,” Wyden said.

The bill, which is modeled on a discussion draft released by Wyden last year, would direct the Secretary of Commerce to identify categories of personal data that, if exported, could harm U.S. national security.

Rubio said “we cannot trust private companies to protect Americans’ private data, especially given how many of them do business in China.”

If approved, the bill would also direct the Commerce Department to require licenses for bulk exports of the identified categories of personal data to other countries, and deny exports to high-risk countries. Data exports to low-risk countries would be unrestricted, according to a summary of the bill.

While the bill does not specifically list China as a high- risk country, it is an intended target according to a Wyden aide.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said “on the issue of data security, China has been aboveboard, open and cooperative … The Chinese government strictly abides by the principles of the protection of data security, and prohibits and cracks down on illegal activities in accordance with law.

Other cosponsors include senators Cynthia Lummis, Sheldon Whitehouse and Bill Hagerty.

The move comes amid heightened scrutiny of U.S. data flows to China. Last month, Reuters reported that the Biden administration had drafted an executive order that would give the Justice Department vast powers to stop foreign adversaries like China from accessing Americans’ personal data.

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