Sato Kiichiro / AP
A federal judge in Pennsylvania has blocked the Trump administration from declaring the U.S. transaction with TikTok illegal, which will take effect on November 12. This is the latest setback of the government’s ban on popular video apps owned by China.
Another aspect of the same order that tried to ban new downloads of the app has been stopped by a judge in Washington, DC, but Friday’s order put Trump’s entire August 6 executive order against TikTok on hold until the end of the legal dispute .
U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone ruled that President Trump invoked his emergency economic power to impose sanctions on TikTok on the grounds of a threat to U.S. security, thus surpassing his authority. .
Beetlestone wrote: “The government’s description of the national security threat posed by the TikTok application is hypothetical.”
The judge said: “The court cannot say that the government’s request to execute an executive order is beyond the scope of what the president can do under his emergency economic power, and the risks outweigh the public interest.”
However, the threat to TikTok’s existence in the United States has not been eliminated.
Another order signed by Trump forced TikTok to completely divest from its Beijing parent company ByteDance, and the plan is also scheduled to take effect on November 12. Beetlestone’s ruling on Friday does not affect the order.
Negotiations between TikTok and potential U.S. buyers are ongoing, and the company hopes to reach an agreement before the deadline next month.
The divestment is a recommendation of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, led by Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury. The committee’s investigation into TikTok had been going on for several months before Trump launched a public war on the app.
Legal experts said that it would be an uphill battle for TikTok to challenge the divestment order in court, because the committee’s recommendations often survive legal challenges.
But from the date the President signed it, an earlier executive order against TikTok has attracted the attention of legal skeptics and has suffered several failures in federal courts.
The judge’s order on Friday was the result of a lawsuit filed by three TikTok influencers, Cosette Rinab, Douglas Marland, and Alec Chambers, who have millions of followers on the app and earn huge income through short videos. According to the lawsuit, Rinab’s maximum revenue per video is $10,000.
A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement: “We are deeply moved by the strong support of creators, who are committed to protecting their rights of expression, careers, and helping small businesses, especially during the pandemic.” Our own voice, we stand behind the community, and we are committed to continuing to provide them with a home.”
Trump has said that Oracle, a software company that cooperates with Walmart, has proposed to acquire the ownership of TikTok to address the White House’s concerns about national security, but the deal has never been finalized and has been stagnant.
Any agreement requires the blessing of Washington and Beijing, and Washington and Beijing are becoming increasingly hostile to the prospect of American companies taking over the first application from China to gain a foothold in the world.
Trump administration officials worry that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance can access US user data, while the Chinese Communist Party may share US user data, and the Chinese Communist Party often has unrestricted access to private companies in China. However, White House officials never provided evidence to clearly show that the Chinese authorities will seek to obtain TikTok user data.
TikTok’s lawyers insisted that this was haunted by the crosshairs of Trump’s trade war with China, and that the president is using popular apps to gain political scores in the election year.
As TikTok is under increasing pressure, the app said it has taken other measures to ensure that Americans’ data is not affected by ByteDance employees in Beijing.
TikTok even asserted in a legal document that some user data is stored on a server in a lock cage in a facility in Northern Virginia, and only people who can enter with a one-time badge can access it.