A US federal judge said he blocked the Trump administration’s ban on Chinese-owned video app TikTok on Sunday because the move likely overstepped the president’s legal authority by blocking an information channel.
In an opinion unsealed on Monday, US District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington said ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, would likely succeed in proving the US government violated the First Amendment and failed to provide the Chinese app with proper due process .
Citing his authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August threatening to ban TikTok and WeChat, a Chinese-owned messaging app, saying the companies could be required to turn over users’ personal data to Beijing and pose a national security risk.
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“TikTok (like a news wire, which is expressly identified in IEEPA’s carveout) is primarily a conduit of ‘informational materials’,” Nichols said.
The TikTok ban will also “inflict irreparable economic and reputational harm” to the company, Nichols said.
By temporarily blocking the ban, the ruling on Sunday prevented the ban of the app from the US stores that was set to go into effect that night.
The Commerce Department defended President Trump’s executive order banning TikTok from the United States, saying that while it would comply with the court order that delayed the ban, it intends to “vigorously defend” the executive order.
“The [executive order] is fully consistent with the law and promotes legitimate national security interests,” the US Commerce Department said in a statement.
The parties would need to confer by Wednesday on next steps in the dispute.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, sued Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department on September 18, saying the administration had acted without due process and in violation of the First Amendment. The app owners asked Nichols to issue a preliminary injunction to halt the ban.
On Friday, the Trump administration filed an objection to TikTok’s request to stop the ban.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Chinese intelligence and economic espionage presents “the greatest long-term threat to US national security and economic security”, as stated the filing.
The document, however, fell short of explaining how TikTok presented as a national security, beyond the fact that TikTok founder Zhang Yiming was listed as “top 100 outstanding private entrepreneurs” in the country and parent company ByteDance has more than 130 Chinese Communist Party members in its Beijing office, according to news reports.
“The Commerce Department does not identify anything specially sensitive about TikTok’s users or the data collected,” said Aimen Mir, former counsel of national security at the Department of Justice and now a lawyer at Freshfields in Washington.
Instead, it “appears to rely on an argument that is a combination of a privacy argument and an argument that all data has national security sensitivity in the context of China”.
The legal back and forth took place as parent company ByteDance sought government approval for its proposed deal with Oracle and Walmart for its US operations.
In a similar ruling for WeChat that also won reprieve from being banned on September 20, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of California on September 19 ruled in favour of a group WeChat users in the US, saying US government failed to provide enough evidence of a security threat.
Last week, Trump asked the judge to stay the injunction for the ban on WeChat to take effect.
More from South China Morning Post:
- US Commerce Department defends Trump administration’s TikTok ban after new court ruling
- Trump’s war on TikTok and WeChat is really about the China trade gap
- Trump administration files legal objection to TikTok’s efforts to halt US ban
- Judge orders US to delay TikTok ban or file arguments supporting it by Friday
This article US judge grants TikTok a reprieve, says Donald Trump likely overstepped his authority first appeared on South China Morning Post