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District Judge Wendy Beetlestone, from Pennsylvania, stopped the US Department of Commerce’s order to effectively bar the Chinese-owned social media app operating in America on Friday. The US President issued an executive order calling for TikTok to be barred from operating in the US earlier this year over concerns the app posed a risk to national security. Executives from app owners ByteDance and TikTok itself have repeatedly denied claims they are linked to the Chinese Communist Party, claiming they are an independent operation.
Judge Beetlestone enjoined, meaning to issue an injunction, the Department of Commerce from barring TikTok from hosting data in the US, along with blocking the app from using content delivery services and other technical transactions.
The Commerce Department issued a statement accepting Judge Beetlestone’s ruling preventing the order from going ahead, but signalled they will be fighting to implement it.
They said on Sunday it would “comply with the injunction … but intends to vigorously defend the (executive order) and the Secretary’s implementation efforts from legal challenges.”
After the ruling on Friday, the Commerce also acknowledged their proposed restrictions would “significantly reduce the functionality and usability of the app in the United States” and “may ultimately make the application less effective”.
The block on the order came after Judge Beetlestone ruled in favour of three app users, who challenged the US government department for impacting their earnings with the order.
Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab, and Alec Chambers launched their legal challenge in September, arguing “earn a livelihood from the content they post on TikTok” and added the apps removal from app stores would see them “lose access to tens of thousands of potential viewers and creators every month, an effect amplified by the looming threat to close TikTok altogether.”
The judge’s ruling held that the Commerce Department’s measure on data hosting would “have the effect of shutting down, within the United States, a platform for expressive activity used by approximately 700 million individuals globally”.
She added: “Over 100 million of these TikTok users are within the United States, and at least 50 million of these US users use the app on a daily basis.”
The Trump administration has waged a prolonged battle this year in an effort to block the app from operating in the US.
In August, Mr Trump signed an executive order approving the ban of the Chinese app and said: “”The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
In her ruling, Judge Beetlestone added the “government’s own descriptions of the national security threat posed by the TikTok app are phrased in the hypothetical.”
TikTok has also repeatedly denied allegations that the app collects users data, amid fears the CCP could order the company to hand over private information due to its status as a Chinese company.
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The President signalled he was open to an American take-over of the app, but ordered a separate executive order in August forcing ByteDance to sell its US operations by November 12.
Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp are set to buy stakes in a rebranded TikTok Global, with Mr Trump adding in October that the deal had his “blessing”.
The current is reported to see both Walmart and Oracle receive a combined 20 percent stake in TikTok Global, which will go public in the next year, and Oracle expected to host all US user data on its cloud platform.
But Republicans are concerned that ByteDance would still have a major stake in the new company, with Mr Trump telling Fox News: “If we find that they don’t have total control, then we’re not going to approve the deal.”
Beijing is also uncomfortable with the prospect of the US gaining a stake in TikTok.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, said: “Based on what I know, Beijing won’t approve current agreement between ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Oracle, Walmart, because the agreement would endanger China’s national security, interests and dignity.”
The US, should the ban go ahead, would join India and Pakistan in blocking TikTok from their countries.
India banned 59 Chinese apps from their countries over national security concerns in June, whereas Pakistan blocked TikTok last month over “immoral and indecent” content.
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