Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Governance & Risk Management

Second Federal Judge Blocks White House's TikTok Ban

Ruling Is Latest Legal Setback For the Trump Administration
Second Federal Judge Blocks White House's TikTok Ban

Another federal judge has issued an order blocking the Trump administration's attempt to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok app in the U.S. It's the latest legal setback for the White House in its attempt to block the social media app on national security grounds.

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On Monday, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols of the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the U.S. Commerce Department from applying any restrictions to TikTok that would effectively ban the video-sharing app from being used in the U.S.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

In his ruling, Nichols states that the Trump administration likely exceeded its authority under the U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows the president to regulate international commerce during a national emergency.

In August, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to ban TikTok, as well as another Chinese-owned app called WeChat, from the U.S. The order noted the administration's concerns about the amount of data that the two apps collected on American users and that the Chinese government could force both companies to hand over that information under that country's laws (see: The Debate Over Trump 'Ban' of TikTok, WeChat).

Now, a Commerce Department spokesperson tells Information Security Media Group that it will abide by Nichols' order, but says that the administration will continue to explore its legal options and defend Trump's executive order.

"The department maintains that the executive order is fully consistent with law and promotes legitimate national security interests," the spokesperson says. "The government will continue to comply with the injunctions and has taken immediate steps to do so, but intends to vigorously defend the executive order and the secretary’s implementation efforts from legal challenges."

A spokesperson for ByteDance says: "We're pleased that the court agreed with us and granted a preliminary injunction against all the prohibitions of the executive order."

Latest Ruling

The preliminary injunction issued Monday follows an Oct. 30 decision by U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, whose order first stopped the Commerce Department from banning TikTok in the U.S.

Beetlestone's ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by three TikTok users who argued that banning the app would affect their ability to earn money from the social media platform, thus impacting their ability to make a living (see: Commerce Department Will Continue to Press for TikTok Ban).

Subsequently, and prior to his Monday ruling, Nichols had blocked a Trump order that would have forced Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app from their online apps stores in September (see: Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Trump's TikTok Ban).

Is TikTok Still for Sale?

In addition to the executive order, the Trump administration has sought to force ByteDance to divest its U.S. operations, and it was using the looming ban of the app to press for a speedy deal.

Oracle and Walmart have been working to hammer out a deal with ByteDance that would create a new company to oversee TikTok's American operations. The companies hope that approach might resolve the administration's national security concerns (see: TikTok's Response to Trump? Let's Make a Deal).

While Trump has said the unfinished deal between ByteDance and the two U.S. firms has his "blessing," any agreement has yet to be finalized.

On Friday, the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States allowed another administration-imposed deadline - for the deal between ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart - to lapse, even though no final agreement, had been reached, Bloomberg reported. While no new deadline has been set, TikTok's ownership is apparently still trying to hammer out an agreeable solution that would also satisfy the administration's national security concerns.

Over the last several weeks, the White House has not issued any new statements about TikTok, and it's not clear where the company's current fate fits into the administration's current agenda. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team have not signaled how the new administration might approach the TikTok issue (see: What a Joe Biden Presidency Means for Cybersecurity).

About the Author

Prajeet Nair

Prajeet Nair

Assistant Editor, Global News Desk, ISMG

Nair previously worked at TechCircle, IDG, Times Group and other publications, where he reported on developments in enterprise technology, digital transformation and other issues.

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