If you haven’t already heard, many people on the Internet are speculating that President Trump may choose to ban the popular video sharing app known as TikTok. There is fear that because TikTok is owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, the app may be used maliciously by China to collect data from it’s American users. Just last week, Congress advanced legislation to block federal employees from using the app on government-issued devices, according to NPR.
Many American TikTok users are wondering if it is even legal for the U.S. government to ban the app. Is it a violation of free speech? Will our rights be taken away if this ban were to occur?
When it comes to matters of National Security, the rights of American citizens can be suppressed in situations where our nation is being threatened. It’s no secret that our nation’s relationship with China is strained right now – to put it lightly. If President Trump sought to ban TikTok from the U.S., he could issue an executive order declaring the app to be a threat of national security under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This law stems from the century-old Trading with the Enemy Act.
“An Executive Order banning a mobile application from interacting with U.S. users would be pretty unprecedented, particularly given the fact that it’s an entertainment application,” says Raees Mohamed, Internet attorney, “It will also be interesting to see how U.S. advertisers and other mobile app companies respond to the TikTok ban. The true purpose of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act is to prohibit financial transactions with entities that are a national security threat. Would the Order mean that Americans cannot advertise with Chinese platforms? Why TikTok? I think an Order will certainly draw scrutiny from the tech community in America and in China. I am sure TikTok has already considered doing a legal restructuring to avoid this sort of ban. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
If this Act were to be invoked, Americans and U.S. based institutions could face hefty civil fines or criminal prosecution for any transactions made with TikTok. In other words, it would be illegal for American companies to pay for TikTok advertising and companies like Apple and Google and would not be able to host the app in their app stores.
In the meantime, TikTok is considering ways to distance itself from its Chinese parent company. TikTok has already stated that for all U.S. users, its data is stored on U.S. shores and does not go offshore to China.
We will keep you updated as this situation unfolds.
UPDATE #1: According to CNN, on Monday, President Trump said he will allow TikTok to stay if a U.S. company were to buy the video sharing app – with a catch. He wants the deal to buy the app to include a “substantial amount of money” coming to the US Treasury.
“Right now they don’t have any rights unless we give it to them. So if we’re going to give them the rights, then … it has to come into this country,” Trump said, according to CNN Business, “It’s a great asset, but it’s not a great asset in the United States unless they have approval in the United States.”
Currently Microsoft is in talks to buy TikTok, according to The Verge.
Update #2: On Thursday, August 6th, 2020, President Trump announced that he is invoking Executive Order 13873, which will outlaw any transactions between U.S. citizens and TikTok. The order will take effect in 45 days unless a U.S. Company were to purchase the app from ByteDance.
“The Order appears overly broad, vague, and lacks sufficient detail. What does ‘any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd. (a.k.a. Zìjié Tiàodòng), Beijing, China, or its subsidiaries, in which any such company has any interest’ really mean?” says Internet Attorney Raees Mohamed, “Is this intended to address privacy issues? If so, it’s way over-broad.”
Update #3: As the clock keeps ticking on Trump’s Executive order banning transactions between U.S. citizens and TikTok, ByteDance has announced that it is pursuing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. The lawsuit alleges that Trump’s ban is a violation of due process protections and does not prove that TikTok is a threat to national security.
“The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration has failed to provide any evidence of National Security Threats, and that the administration ignored TikTok’s actual data and privacy policies. If correct, then the TikTok ban certainly falls closer to being an arbitrary ban and lacks due process,” says Internet Attorney Raees Mohamed.
Update #4: On Thursday August 27th, 2020, Walmart confirmed to CNBC that it is in talks to team up with Microsoft to buy TikTok. Walmart is interested in benefiting from TikTok’s e-commerce and advertising capabilities.
Update #5: On Sunday September 13th, Oracle, a U.S. computer technology company, won the bid against Microsoft for TikTok. However, this doesn’t mean the app is removed from Trump’s chopping block. In fact, Trump announced on Wednesday, September 16th that he is “not prepared to sign off on anything” for a Oracle TikTok deal, according to CNBC. President Trump wants to ensure that the deal is 100% as far as national security is concerned and would still like to government to get a cut of the deal. It was also rumored that Byte Dance would retain a stake in TikTok, which Trump does not approve of at all. It is reported that the President will make his decision to approve or disapprove of the deal in the next coming hours.
More updates to come.
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