A judge in Washington, DC late on Sunday temporarily blocked a controversial order by the Trump administration that was set to bar downloads of the popular Chinese-owned short video app TikTok at 11:59pm (03:59 GMT on Monday).
District Judge Carl Nichols, a nominee of President Donald Trump who joined the court last year, said he was issuing a temporary injunction at the request of TikTok, which the White House has accused of being a threat to national security.
Nichols declined “at this time” to block other Commerce Department restrictions set to take effect on November 12 that TikTok has said will make the app unusable in the United States.
Nichols’ detailed written opinion is expected to be released as soon as Monday.
John E Hall, a lawyer for TikTok, had argued during a 90-minute Sunday morning hearing that the ban was “unprecedented” and “irrational”.
“How does it make sense to impose this app store ban tonight when there are negotiations under way that might make it unnecessary?” Hall asked during the hearing. “This is just punitive. This is just a blunt way to whack the company … There is simply no urgency here.”
US officials say they are concerned that personal data collected on 100 million Americans who use the app could be obtained by China’s governing Communist Party (CCP).
Deal under review
ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, is a “mouthpiece” for the party and “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging”, a government brief said.
ByteDance said last week it had reached a preliminary deal for Walmart and Oracle to take stakes in a new company, TikTok Global, that would oversee US operations. Negotiations continue over the terms of the agreement and to resolve concerns in both Washington and Beijing.
The deal is still to be reviewed by the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
“Really, nobody wins if there’s ultimately a ban,” Jim Anderson, a technology analyst at SocialFlow told Al Jazeera, noting that the US market was TikTok’s second biggest. “The US loses, China loses, consumers lose, ByteDance and TikTok lose so you would like to think that there’s a deal to be had here.”
The Justice Department said a preliminary injunction allowing Americans to continue downloading the TikTok app would be “interfering with a formal national security judgement of the president; altering the landscape with respect to ongoing CFIUS negotiations; and continuing to allow sensitive and valuable user information to flow to ByteDance with respect to all new users.”
TikTok argued the restrictions, amid rising tensions between the US and China, “were not motivated by a genuine national security concern, but rather by political considerations relating to the upcoming general election”.
Another US judge, in Pennsylvania, on Saturday rejected a bid by three TikTok content creators to block the ban, while a judge in California has blocked a similar order from taking effect on WeChat, a messaging app owned by China’s Tencent.
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