TikTok lives to fight another day after US judge halts government ban

TikTok lives to fight another day after US judge halts government ban
Source: Dado Ruvic, Reuters
Another comprehensive ban that would stop US companies from working with TikTok from November was not ruled on

A United States federal judge on Sunday, September 27, temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s order to ban the popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok over national security concerns.

The ban was set to take effect on Sunday at midnight as per the date fixed by the US Department of Commerce, meaning TikTok would no longer be available on US app stores and rendered non-functional for existing users as new security updates would be barred.

The order, passed by US District Judge Carl Nichols of Washington DC, will allow users to continue using TikTok and download it from app stores.

However, Nichols did not rule in favor of a request to extend a November 12 deadline set by the Commerce Department for TikTok to sell its US operations to an American company, or else face closure.

The judge observed that President Donald Trump had broad emergency economic powers on national security matters but that TikTok came under the category of “information services” and “personal communication” and, thus, was an exception. He added that banning TikTok was likely beyond Trump’s authority.

During a telephone court hearing on Sunday morning, TikTok’s lawyers said that a ban on the app would be “devastating” and urged the judge to halt it until the entire case was decided.

John Hall, an attorney for TikTok, argued that the app with around 100 million American users was a “modern day version of the town square" and blocking it would be tantamount to “shutting down speech.”

“Telling two-thirds of the country, who are not members of this community, that you’re not going to be permitted in,” Hall continued, “The government would be taking this extraordinary action at the very time that the need for free, open and accessible communication in America is at its zenith – 37 days before a national election.”

Calling the ban “arbitrary and capricious,” he added, “This is one of the fastest growing apps in the world, and those new users are the lifeblood of this business, which is true of any social media platform. If it disappears from the app stores, the effect would be devastating with respect to users, content, creators, and would damage its reputation with advertisers.”

The attorneys maintained that there was no substantial evidence to prove that TikTok posed a national security threat to the US. They also accused Trump of indulging in hostilities to make political gains.

Welcoming the court’s decision, a TikTok spokeswoman said, “We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees. At the same time, we will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the President gave his preliminary approval to last weekend, into an agreement.”

Arguing for the ban, attorneys for the US government said that discontinuing TikTok on US app stores would allow the authorities to address the issue of national security threat from China.

The Trump administration stated that the planned ban of the app would be postponed following the judgment but that the legal battle against TikTok would continue.

The Commerce Department issued a statement saying, “The Executive Order is fully consistent with the law and promotes legitimate national security interests. The Government will comply with the injunction and has taken immediate steps to do so, but intends to vigorously defend the Executive Order and the Secretary’s implementation efforts from legal challenges.”

Backing Trump’s executive order to ban TikTok, Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei stated that the argument of free speech is “completely irrelevant” to the country’s security concerns.

“The concern here is about data security risk and leaving data vulnerable to access by the Chinese government. This is the most immediate national security threat. It is a threat today,” Schwei said.

On September 14, Oracle Corp. won the bid to acquire the US operations of TikTok after the app’s parent corporation, ByteDance Ltd., rejected Microsoft’s acquisition offer. Although Trump gave the deal a tentative approval, it has not been finalized due to a dispute over ownership between ByteDance and Oracle. Another US company, Walmart Inc., is also involved in the deal.

China has shown no sign of relenting on its position of not allowing an American company to take over TikTok’s US operations and its technology, leaving little scope for an agreement.

On September 26, China’s state-run Global Times newspaper called Trump’s crackdown on TikTok a “mafia-style robbery of a lucrative Chinese business" and that the Oracle-TikTok partnership was unlikely to be approved.

Amid escalating tensions between China and the US, Trump signed an executive order on August 6, blocking all transactions with ByteDance and giving it a 45-day window to reach a deal or close its operations in the country. This was after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top officials at the White House warned that TikTok posed a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership.

The Trump administration alleged that ByteDance was abusing American users’ data and sneaking in tracking malware.

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