Biden didn’t “revoke” the TikTok ban

President Biden issued an executive order June 9 on “Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries.” The media widely reported it as “rescinding” or “revoking” two Trump executive orders that banned new downloads of WeChat and TikTok. But that framing is wildly inaccurate. First, the Trump orders never took effect, as they were blocked by the courts. Second, Biden’s new order is more like an extension of than an abandonment of Trump’s orders. Far from rejecting the premise of Trump’s orders, it calls for the Commerce Department to undertake “evidence-based” evaluation of the risks to national security, foreign policy, and the economy posed by the increased use in the United States of TikTok, which it describes as “certain connected software applications designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by … a foreign adversary.” The Biden EO already concludes – without any evidence – that increased use of foreign apps “continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” In other words, the U.S. is still edging away from a global Internet and towards China’s “Great Firewall” approach to foreign information services. It will be interesting to see any actual evidence the Commerce Department can provide for the order’s foregone conclusion. The administration has also not said whether TikTok will need to divest from its Chinese owner ByteDance. A separate U.S. national security review of TikTok launched in late 2019 remains active and ongoing

US-China conference event

IGP’s academic conference on “Comparative Analysis of Platform Governance in the U.S. and China” is almost here. Register at Eventbrite by June 18 to gain access to the presentations and discussions to be held June 23-25. Twenty papers will compare American and Chinese approaches to digital platform trade and market access, content control, antitrust, cybersecurity and payment systems. This assumes, of course, that the exchanges of information are not deemed national security threats by either government.

El Salvador de Bitcoin

Last month’s trend toward banning bitcoin was met by a remarkable counter-event June 9: the Congress of the nation of El Salvador formally voted to accept Bitcoin as legal tender. Under the law, bitcoin must be accepted by firms when offered as payment for goods and services, and tax contributions can also be paid in the cryptocurrency. The government will guarantee convertibility to dollars through a $150 million trust created at the country’s development bank. The innovative move raises a number of economic policy questions, including the poor internet access in parts of the country and its potential impact on inflation given El Salvador’s reliance on the US dollar. But it is also highly significant for global Internet governance, because its legitimation by one state would greatly increase the difficulty of a coalition of other states to ban or unduly restrict Bitcoin use.

Canada imposes national quotas on user-generated content

The Trudeau government’s push to pass Bill C-10, which seeks to classify media streaming sites as “broadcasters” and subject them to regulation that applies to television and radio, took a disturbing turn last week. Under the current version of the bill all user generated content is treated as a “program” and thus subject to regulations under the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) rules. Being classified as a program means that the Canadian government has the power to order YouTube, TikTok and Instagram to carry a certain quota or type of content. While must carry obligations made sense in the age of limited airwaves where only a certain amount of content could be consumed, on-demand services make this approach redundant. 

Last week, the Canadian Heritage Committee, which has been studying Bill C-10 for months, moved to shut down its line-by-line study of the bill, and in the process rapidly passed a series of amendments before MPs on the committee had time to discuss them. Thankfully, the Speaker of the House of Commons found that the committee had “exceeded its authority” and the problematic amendments seem to have been stalled for now. However, given the misguided motivations driving the bill it is unlikely to go away anytime soon.