The Trump administration has backed off of its TikTok ban, but a federal judge had already blocked it, citing the White House's 'hypothetical' national security concerns

Thursday - 12/11/2020 21:07
President Donald Trump has issued multiple executive orders aimed at banning TikTok or forcing it to sell to US investors. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
President Donald Trump has issued multiple executive orders aimed at banning TikTok or forcing it to sell to US investors. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
The Commerce Department said it won't enforce an executive order that would have effectively banned TIkTok in the US in order to comply with a federal judge's ruling temporarily blocking the ban.

The Trump administration acknowledged that it will comply with a federal judge's ruling blocking an executive order that would have effectively banned TikTok in the US.

The order "WILL NOT GO INTO EFFECT, pending further legal developments," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a directive issued Monday. The order would have gone into effect after 11:59 pm ET on Thursday.

But on October 30, a federal district court judge in Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction blocking the order, citing the administration's "hypothetical" national security concerns. The administration appealed the injunction on Thursday.

The injunction is part of a lawsuit filed in mid-September by several TikTok creators who argued that a ban on the app would significantly harm their business and limit their audience growth, as well as restrict their freedom of expression on the platform.

"We are deeply moved by the outpouring of support from our creators, who have worked to protect their rights to expression, their careers, and to helping small businesses, particularly during the pandemic. We stand behind our community as they share their voices, and we are committed to continuing to provide a home for them to do so," TikTok said in a statement at the time.

The TikTok creators' lawsuit is one of several legal challenges to Trump's efforts to ban the viral video app from the US.

Separately, in August TikTok sued over the executive order, which sought to ban all transactions between TikTok and ByteDance, its Chinese-based parent company, arguing there was no due process and that the Trump administration lacked evidence that the app posed a national security risk.

In September, a federal district court judge blocked the Trump administration from banning new downloads of TikTok in the US as part of the same executive order. The administration appealed that ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in October.

Trump also issued a second executive order in August seeking to force ByteDance to sell TikTok's US assets to American investors, based on a national security review conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, an agency within the Commerce Department.

That order prompted a chaotic race among US investors, including Oracle, Microsoft, and Walmart, to buy TikTok — also in time for a November 12 deadline, though it allowed CFIUS to grant TikTok a 30-day extension.

While Microsoft initially looked to be a frontrunner, deal talks eventually moved along furthest with Oracle, whose cofounder Larry Ellison is a longtime friend of Trump. Trump initially gave preliminary approval to the Oracle-TikTok arrangement, but shortly after, Washington and Beijing both hinted they may block it amid massive confusion about who would own the app.

Earlier this week, TikTok asked the DC appeals court to intervene and invalidate the Trump administration's divestiture order, saying it hadn't heard from the government for weeks with any feedback on its proposals or its request for an extension.

"For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment," TikTok said in a statement. "In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement – but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework."

It's unclear what has delayed the Trump administration. On October 2, not long after preliminarily approving the Oracle deal, the president, first lady Melania Trump, and at least a dozen White House officials and staff were diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Amid the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subsequent confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and Trump's recent focus on the presidential election, Trump appears to have put his crusade against TikTok on the back burner.

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