TikTok drags US govt to court over President Trump's threat of ban

TikTok | Photo: Bloomberg
TikTok asked a judge to block the Trump administration from enacting a ban on the Chinese social-media network, as the company brought a geopolitical fight over technology and trade into a U.S. courtroom.

TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., filed a complaint in Washington federal court late Friday night challenging President Donald Trump’s executive order that would block U.S. companies from doing business with them.

Trump exceeded his authority when he moved to ban the app, and did so for political reasons rather than to stop an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S., as the law requires, according to the complaint. TikTok also said the ban violates the company’s First Amendment free speech rights.

Trump’s actions would “destroy an online community where millions of Americans have come together to express themselves,” according to the complaint. The company also claims that the U.S. Commerce Department “ignored evidence” showing TikTok’s commitment to privacy and security of its American users.

Trump issued the order abruptly after stating that TikTok didn’t “have any rights” and that he would ban the app if ByteDance didn’t pay the U.S. to secure government approval of a sale of its U.S. operations -- which the president later admitted would be unlawful, according to the complaint.

The suit comes as Trump steps up his campaign against China, betting that a hard line against Beijing will help him win November’s election despite upsetting millions of younger TikTok users. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has urged American companies to bar Chinese applications from their app stores, part of his “Clean Network” guidance designed to prevent authorities in China from accessing personal data of U.S. citizens.

The order followed an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews proposed acquisitions of domestic businesses by overseas investors for national security concerns.

TikTok said it offered alternatives to the president’s ban to address U.S. concerns but that on Friday the Commerce Department “mandated the destruction of TikTok in the United States.”

Any lawsuit challenging such executive orders will face an uphill fight, according to James Dempsey, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley.

“Courts generally do not review the president’s determinations on questions of national security,” Dempsey said before the case was filed.

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