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Federal Court Blocks TikTok Download Ban

People wearing face masks use smartphones next to an advertisement of TikTok at a bus stop in Beijing, China, August 24, 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s order prohibiting TikTok downloads in the U.S. on Sunday, less than four hours before the ban was set to begin.

The ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. will allow TikTok’s owner, Chinese technology firm ByteDance, extra time to receive approval from the U.S. and Chinese governments for a deal with Oracle and Walmart, though a November 12 complete ban of the app still looms if a deal cannot be approved. 

The Commerce Department said in a statement Sunday that it will obey the injunction but that it will continue to defend its implementation efforts from other legal challenges, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

A spokeswoman for TikTok said in a statement late Sunday that it was pleased by the court’s ruling and that the company “will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees.”

TikTok plans to continue working with the U.S. government to approve an agreement, she said.

While President Trump gave his blessing to the deal earlier this month, the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment must approve the specifics of the deal, including the ownership structure — ByteDance has reportedly sought to retain a majority stake in the company.

A spokesman for ByteDance has said that it would hold an 80 percent share of TikTok Global, while Oracle has disputed this, saying that Americans will be the majority owners and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.

Chinese officials, who are concerned about ByteDance losing control of the short-form video app as well as the message that would be sent by U.S. owners taking control of a Chinese company’s intellectual property, could also reject the deal. 

Judge Carl Nichols did not immediately explain the ruling to block the ban indefinitely and on Sunday asked both sides to suggest a timeline for further arguments. The court could still side with the administration and allow the ban to take effect.

In court on Sunday, Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei argued that the government’s intent in issuing a ban was to protect TikTok users’ personal data and to stop new users from leaving even more data at risk.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is entitled “to address the most important, immediate threat to national security, which is new users continuing to sign up and making their data vulnerable to the Chinese government,” Schwei said.

The U.S. government said one red flag is a “high level” of activity between U.S.-based TikTok users and IP addresses located in China and owned by a Chinese company. The memo added that TikTok stored its U.S. user data in China before February 2019.

TikTok, which called the ban “punitive,” has said it hasn’t and wouldn’t share information about U.S. users with the Chinese government and that it does not store U.S. user data in China. 

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