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US Judge says Trump administration can’t ban TikTok

A federal judge in the US has blocked the ban on short video app TikTok, imposed by the Trump administration. In his opinion, US district judge Carl J Nichols said that the government likely exceeded the International Emergency Economic Powers Act’s (IEEPA) limitations while blocking US transactions with the app. Nichols had in September passed an order that allowed people to continue downloading the app in the US.

IEEPA’s grant of authority does not include the “authority to regulate or prohibit, directly  or indirectly . . . any . . . personal communication, which does not involve a transfer of anything of value,” Nichols held. He said that while the government has provided enough evidence that China is a significant national security threat to the US, the evidence it provided claiming that ByteDance and TikTok pose the same threats, are “less substantial”.

It also said that shutting down TikTok would cause the company irreparable harm, and the government could not offer the court any reason to depart from that conclusion.

On August 6, Trump signed an executive order banning US transactions with Bytedance over national security concerns. In that order, Trump had invoked the IEEPA, and declared TikTok and WeChat as threats to US’s national security, and its citizens’s privacy.

In response to the August 6 order, TikTok had filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that the executive order was a “gross misappropriation” of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and a “pretext for furthering the President’s broader campaign of anti-China rhetoric in the run-up to the U.S. election”. TikTok also said that the August 6 executive order failed to follow due process and act in good faith, neither providing evidence that TikTok was an actual threat, nor justification for its punitive actions.

Before this, in October, a court in Pennsylvania had also effectively stopped the US government from shutting down TikTok , after three TikTok creators brought a lawsuit challenging the government’s ban on the app.

TikTok, Oracle, Walmart in the middle of a complicated deal

On September 19, it seemed as if TikTok’s future in the US was somewhat secured after Oracle and Walmart announced that they will pick up a 20% stake in TikTok Global, which will provide TikTok services to users in the US and “most of the users in the rest of the world”. Trump even gave this deal his “blessing” and had “approved the deal in concept.” Oracle will acquire 12.5% of the short video app, whereas Walmart will pick up a 7.5% stake. As part of the proposed Sdeal, Oracle will become TikTok’s “secure cloud provider” and will combine its secure cloud technology with “continuous code reviews, monitoring, and auditing” to keep US users’ data safe. Walmart, on the other hand, is looking to boost its marketplace and ad business through the deal.

However, that was until ByteDance said that it will own 80% of TikTok Global. Following ByteDance’s announcement, Trump threatened the deal will not be approved if ByteDance retains control of the company. Oracle, too, hit out at the company, claiming that ByteDance will have no ownership of TikTok Global. “Upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global,” Oracle had said at the time.

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