US judge temporarily blocks Trump's ban on TikTok

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's ban on TikTok was temporarily blocked by a federal judge, dealing a blow to the government in its showdown with the popular Chinese-owned app that it says threatens national security.

After an unusual Sunday morning hearing, US District Judge Carl Nichols granted a preliminary injunction against the ban on new downloads of the video-sharing network, which would have gone into effect at the end of the day.

The judge declined to grant an injunction on a separate set of prohibitions scheduled for Nov 12 designed to further curb the app's use in the United States.

TikTok's owner ByteDance requested the hold after Mr Trump ordered the app out of US stores unless the firm sold a stake in its US operations to a domestic buyer.

The ban would have removed TikTok from stores run by Apple and Google's Android, the most widely used marketplaces for apps.

TikTok has been downloaded by more than 100 million Americans.

"We're pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban," the firm said.

"We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees."

This is the second legal ruling against the Trump administration's efforts to crack down on popular apps with Chinese owners.

Mr Trump has called for bans on both TikTok and Tencent's WeChat, arguing that the apps could give Beijing access to millions of Americans' personal data. WeChat users won a court injunction in California against a ban last week.

The bans are part of an increasingly hard line Mr Trump has taken on Beijing as the US presidential election approaches.

The TikTok order was issued with a sealed opinion, so the reasons for the judge's ruling were not immediately available. The judge also ordered both parties to submit a joint proposed schedule for further hearings "on or before" tomorrow.

The US Commerce Department said: "The government will comply with the injunction and has taken immediate steps to do so, but intends to vigorously defend the EO (Mr Trump's executive order) and the secretary's implementation efforts from legal challenges."

ByteDance is fighting the Trump administration in court even as it pursues its approval for the sale of a stake in its US business to Oracle and Walmart. The ruling does not effect the sale's Nov 12 deadline.

China's most prominent state-backed media mouthpieces have denounced the planned sale.

"What the United States has done to TikTok is almost the same as a gangster forcing an unreasonable and unfair business deal on a legitimate company," state-run China Daily wrote in an opinion piece.

After the US decision, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin tweeted that he welcomed the ruling: "I think it is in line with morality, justice and common sense."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin yesterday said China opposes "the US abusing the concept of national security".

TikTok's lawyer told the judge on Sunday that banning it from US app stores would undermine security by preventing existing users from receiving weekly security updates.

He argued that the government has less burdensome alternatives, such as the sale, to achieve its national security aims.

ByteDance says Mr Trump is exceeding his authority with the ban.

"The consequences immediately are grave," attorney John Hall told the judge. "It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum."

His language echoed the ruling of the judge in California who put the hold on the WeChat ban, citing its effect on free speech and the irreparable harm that the ban would cause to the business.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'US judge temporarily blocks Trump's ban on TikTok'. Print Edition | Subscribe