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TikTok sues U.S. government over Trump ban

TikTok app

Narinder Nanu | AFP | Getty Images

TikTok, the video-sharing application owned by China-based ByteDance, filed a lawsuit Monday against the U.S. government challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to ban the company’s American operations.

In a blog post, TikTok argued that the ban prevents the company from due process, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. TikTok added that President Donald Trump’s executive order, made earlier this month under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, ignored the company’s efforts to prove it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and isn’t a national security threat. 

“We do not take suing the government lightly, however we feel we have no choice but to take action to protect our rights, and the rights of our community and employees,” TikTok said. “With the Executive Order threatening to bring a ban on our US operations — eliminating the creation of 10,000 American jobs and irreparably harming the millions of Americans who turn to this app for entertainment, connection and legitimate livelihoods that are vital especially during the pandemic — we simply have no choice.”

The White House declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Trump administration has expressed concern about U.S. data security and data privacy with several Chinese companies, including Huawei and WeChat. ByteDance argued that is has provided the government with “voluminous documentation” explaining TikTok’s security practices to prove it’s a private company that doesn’t share data with the Chinese government. Rather, ByteDance has viewed the administration’s attacks against TikTok as an escalation of an economic battle with China, which strictly regulates or prohibits U.S. internet companies from operating within its borders.

TikTok continues to discuss a sale of its U.S., Canadian, Australian and New Zealand operations with Microsoft, Oracle and other investors in the company, according to people familiar with the matter. The lawsuit doesn’t challenge the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States decision that ByteDance must divest its U.S. assets by Nov. 12. The ban under the international emergency powers act, is set to take place Sept. 15. 

While ByteDance’s lawsuit doesn’t specifically challenge the CFIUS order, the company argued that “CFIUS never articulated any reason why TikTok’s security measures were inadequate to address any national security concerns.” ByteDance claimed CFIUS first contacted it to review its acquisition of Musical.ly, TikTok’s former name, in 2019.

“The executive order seeks to ban TikTok purportedly because of the speculative possibility that the application could be manipulated by the Chinese government,” TikTok said in its lawsuit. “But, as the U.S. government is well aware, Plaintiffs have taken extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s U.S. user data, including by having TikTok store such data outside of China (in the United States and Singapore) and by erecting software barriers that help ensure that TikTok stores its U.S. user data separately from the user data of other ByteDance products.”

TikTok also argued that the executive order is a misuse of the international emergency powers act, which it claimed was used last year by the Trump administration “to address asserted U.S. national security concerns about certain telecommunications companies’ ability to abuse access to ‘information and communications technology and services.'” TikTok noted it’s not a telecommunications provider and “does not provide the types of technology and services contemplated by the 2019 executive order.”

Various presidential administrations have used the act for a range of issues, including terrorism and human rights violations. Trump argued in his Aug. 6 executive order that “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

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