Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency
Updated 8:56 PM ET on Sunday
A federal judge temporarily blocked President Trump’s TikTok ban on Sunday, granting a temporary suspension to the hugely popular video-sharing app.
During a telephone court hearing on Sunday, TikTok’s lawyers said Trump’s crackdown violated free speech and due process rights.
John Hall, a TikTok lawyer, said the app, with around 100 million US users, is a “modern version of the town square” and closing it is like silencing words.
Judge Carl Nichols of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia responded by breaking the ban, which was supposed to take effect Sunday at midnight.
The action of the White House it would have forced TikTok to be removed from smartphone app stores, meaning that TikTok could not reach new users and those who already had it would be deprived of app updates, ultimately rendering it non-functional.
Nichols denied a request to extend a November 12 deadline for TikTok to spin off its US operations to an American company, or face possible extinction in the country.
In a statement, TikTok said he was pleased that the court sided with its legal arguments.
“We will continue to defend our rights for the benefit of our community and employees. At the same time, we will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to transform our proposal, to which the President gave his preliminary approval last weekend,” in a deal. “said a spokesperson for TikTok.
The judge’s move means that the Chinese-owned TikTok can now operate uninterrupted at least until a court hearing. Nicholas’ opinion in support of his decision was not immediately released. A full date has not yet been set for a hearing on the case.
The dispute between the United States and TikTok began with an executive order blacklisting the app on August 6, when the president called for a national economic emergency, citing national security reasons.
In his court filing, TikTok lawyers said there is no credible evidence to back up Trump’s national security claims. Instead, TikTok’s legal team accused the president of being led by “political animus” for “political campaign fodder”.
“It would be no different than having the government lock the doors of a public forum, cutting off that square,” Hall said Sunday.
“Tell two-thirds of the country, who are not members of this community, that you will not be allowed in,” Hall told the judge. “The government would take this extraordinary action just as the need for free, open and accessible communication in America is at its peak – 37 days before the national elections.”
US Department of Justice attorney Daniel Schwei countered that any concerns about free speech are “completely irrelevant” to the president’s national security prerogatives.
“The concern here is about data security risk and leaving data vulnerable to access by the Chinese government,” Schwei said. “This is the most immediate threat to national security. It is a threat today.”
The White House fears that the authoritarian Chinese regime may have access to the data collected by TikTok and use it to spy or blackmail Americans. Trump officials have called the chief executive of TikTok ByteDance’s parent company a “spokesperson” for the Chinese Communist Party. So far, US officials have offered no direct evidence that China has ever searched for TikTok data.
TikTok, for its part, says it would deny any request for data from Beijing, indicating that Americans’ data is primarily stored in the United States and data decisions are made by a U.S.-led team.
The judge who hands a temporary victory to TikTok follows the actions of another judge, in Northern California, who suspended the president’s ban on a separate Chinese-owned app, WeChat. In that case, the judge found that the Trump administration offered “little evidence” to support its national security concerns.
Even a six-month ban, TikTok said, would be devastating. Vanessa Pappas, interim global head of TikTok, estimated that 90% of TikTok users would quit if the app went dark for that period of time.
Trump has indicated that he would give up his push to outlaw TikTok if his US operations were sold to an American company. Software company Oracle and Walmart received interim approval from the president in a deal to bail out the app, but since then, ByteDance and the American companies seem to disagree over the new company’s ownership structure.
Any deal would require the Chinese government’s blessing, which seems increasingly in doubt. On Saturday, the Global Times, an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, called Trump’s crackdown on TikTok a “mafia-style robbery of a lucrative Chinese business” and that the Oracle deal would not be approved.