TikTok Sues Trump Administration to Block U.S. Ban
TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., filed a complaint late Friday night challenging the Trump administration's recent moves to prevent the app from operating in the U.S. The lawsuit marks the second time TikTok has challenged President Donald Trump's actions in court, bringing a high-stakes geopolitical fight over technology and trade into the U.S. legal system.
Trump exceeded his authority, the company said, and did so for political reasons rather than to stop an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S., as the law requires. TikTok also said the ban violates its First Amendment free-speech rights.
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump's actions would “destroy an online community where millions of Americans have come together to express themselves,” according to the complaint. The company claimed that the U.S. government has “ignored evidence” showing TikTok's commitment to the privacy and security of its American users.
On August 6, Trump issued an executive order saying he would ban transactions with the app within 45 days, arguing that the social network's Chinese ownership made it a national security threat. TikTok sued to block that order in federal court in Californa in August. But on Friday, the Commerce Department, moving to implement Trump's order, said TikTok would be banned in the U.S. starting on Nov. 12 unless it could complete a takeover deal that assuages the government's concerns.
Trump's 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. And it set off a flurry of attempted deal-making, pushing ByteDance to seek a sale of TikTok's American operations to a U.S. company. TikTok is currently in talks with Oracle Corp. about a possible deal.
Trump, nearing a decision on whether to approve an alliance between Oracle and TikTok, spoke by phone Friday with Oracle's chairman, Larry Ellison, according to people familiar with the matter.
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 Trump administration also ordered a ban on downloads of the Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat as of Sunday. A group of U.S. users is challenging that ban in a California court.
TikTok, a platform for creating and sharing short videos, has grown rapidly in the U.S. from about 11 million monthly active users in January 2018 to about 100 million. Global usage has risen to almost 2 billion from 55 million in January 2018, the company has said.
In the lawsuit, TikTok said it offered alternatives to the president's ban to address U.S. concerns only for the Commerce Department to mandate “the destruction of TikTok in the United States.”
But lawsuits challenging executive orders that deal with national security typically face an uphill battle, 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.