April 18, 2024

ICYMI: At Hearing, Warren Calls Out Big Tech for Misleading Americans on Digital Trade, Highlights Biden Administration’s Actions to Protect Americans’ Data

“Big Tech wants to keep auctioning your data to the highest bidder, even when that means that your data makes it to the Chinese or Russian government.” But U.S. Trade Rep Tai has “stood up to Big Tech's trade agenda and China's digital authoritarianism.”

Video of Exchange (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pushed back on Big Tech’s misleading claims that “free data flows” provisions in trade agreements will help combat China’s digital authoritarianism, when the opposite in fact is true. Senator Warren asked Ambassador Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), about the Biden administration’s actions to prevent Big Tech from co-opting U.S. trade policy for its own ends and to protect Americans’ data from ending up in the hands of foreign adversaries.

Senator Warren highlighted the hypocrisy of Big Tech companies’ argument that a “free data flows” mandate will help keep Americans’ data safe. She noted that it is Big Tech companies themselves who auction off Americans’ data to the highest bidder, from where it makes its way into the hands of adversarial governments like Russia and China. In response to a question from Senator Warren, Ambassador Tai confirmed that trade policy has consistently fallen short as a mechanism to hold China to account for its digital authoritarianism. Senator Warren applauded Ambassador Tai for rejecting Big Tech’s demand for a “free data flows” mandate in order to allow the United States to take actions like President Biden’s recent executive order (EO) to protect Americans’ financial, health, and other private data from adversaries like China. Ambassador Tai agreed that the Administration’s rejection of Big Tech’s digital trade demands was precisely so the U.S. government can take actions like the President's data security EO.

Senator Warren also highlighted that in this year’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative National Trade Estimate report listing foreign barriers to U.S. trade and investment, Ambassador Tai removed competition and tech regulation policies advanced by U.S. allies but maintained China’s abusive data and intellectual property practices, demonstrating a clear commitment to taking on China’s abusive digital policies to protect Americans’ data while rejecting Big Tech’s cries for less regulation.

Transcript: Finance Committee Hearing on the 2024 Trade Agenda
U.S. Senate Finance Committee
April 17, 2024

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Corporations have long used secretive trade negotiations as a backdoor cheat to try to undermine regulations and trigger a global race to the bottom. Now, Big Tech is running this play and one of the demands is blanket protections for the "free flow of data,” which they want to guarantee Big Tech company's rights to sell Americans’ personal information anywhere in the world. In other words, Big Tech wants to keep auctioning your data to the highest bidder, even when that means that your data makes it to the Chinese or Russian government. 

Ambassador Tai, as U.S. Trade Rep, you have stood up to Big Tech's trade agenda and China's digital authoritarianism. Tech lobbyists would have us believe that their data flows language will persuade China to abandon its surveillance state and tear down the Great Firewall. Back when China joined the World Trade Organization, supporters made the exact same claim, arguing that trade would transform China into a liberal democracy. 

Ambassador Tai, remind me - did that happen? What has been China's track record on meeting its WTO commitments that it made at the time and moving towards liberal democracy? 

Ambassador Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative: Senator Warren, this is one of the greatest disappointments in trade policy over the course of the last 25 years. I have had a lot of conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle around China's accession to the WTO and their descriptions of how disappointed they are in terms of their expectations is very deep. 

Senator Warren: So now Big Tech is making the same claim. That if we will just let Big Tech sell off our data wherever they want China will become a more open, democratic country. President Biden has not been fooled by this. In February he executed an executive order to prevent Big Tech from transferring huge swaths of Americans’ financial, health, and other data to China and other countries of concern. 

Ambassador Tai, how would the President's data security executive order square with Big Tech's demand for free data flows in all situations? And, let me ask, is this why you rejected Big Tech's demands, so the U.S. government can take actions like the President's order to protect Americans' data from adversaries? 

Ambassador Tai: Senator Warren, the short answer is yes. Both with respect to the administration's executive order, safeguarding the security of Americans' bulk data from flowing into China and never coming back out, but also with respect to all of the activity happening up here in congress. We saw a data broker bill move through the House and pass on a 414-0 basis. We see the data broker bill that has been introduced by the Chairman and Senator Hirono, as well as a lot of the other legislative efforts up here – again, to define the right that Americans have with respect to their data, as well as being concerned with the onboard flow of that data to places that make it unsafe for us. 

Senator Warren: I very much appreciate you making sure that trade policy is not a way to block appropriate regulations that Congress and the President are trying to put in place. 

I want to hit one more issue. That is, the USTR’s annual report listing foreign barriers to U.S. trade and investment. Until now, corporate interests have stacked this report with a laundry list of any other policy from any other country they think somehow nips into their own profits. 

Not you. You have not fallen for this. This year, you refused to label common sense tech policies from the EU, Canada, and from other allies as trade barriers. By the way, those are policies that look a lot like the ones we are actively working on in the United States. Big Tech is screaming that you are not protecting them from these dangerous foreign adversaries, like Canada. 

Ambassador Tai, did you remove China's abusive data and intellectual property policies from the trade barrier report? 

Ambassador Tai: We did not. 

Senator Warren: You are still taking on China's abusive digital policies, but Big Tech is throwing a tantrum even though there is a clear difference between our allies' good faith efforts to regulate and China's digital authoritarianism. Big Tech does not want to be regulated – period – and hopes that it can use trade policy to insulate them from any regulation. I'm glad to see that you and President Biden are giving Big Tech's digital trade agenda the boot and fighting for the protection and security of Americans' data.