US judge blocks Trump administration's ban on new TikTok downloads

NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

A US judge has temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that was set to bar Apple and Google from offering Chinese-owned TikTok app for download at 11:59 pm on Sunday.

US District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington said in a brief order late on Sunday he was issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the TikTok app store ban from taking effect.

Nichols, a nominee of President Donald Trump, declined "at this time" to block other Commerce Department restrictions set to take effect on November 12 which would ban technical and business arrangements that are crucial to the proper functioning of the app.

Nichols' detailed written opinion is expected to be released as soon as Monday.

The Commerce Department said in a statement it "will comply with the injunction and has taken immediate steps to do so."

The statement, which defended the TikTok order and Trump's executive order demanding owner ByteDance divest its TikTok US operations within 90 days, did not specify whether the government would appeal.

John E. Hall, a lawyer for TikTok, argued the ban was "unprecedented" and "irrational" during a 90-minute Sunday morning hearing.

"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."

TikTok said it was pleased with the injunction and added it "will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the president gave his preliminary approval to last week, into an agreement."

ByteDance said on September 20 it had struck a preliminary deal for Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to take stakes in a new company, TikTok Global, that would oversee US operations after Trump said he had given the deal his "blessing". Negotiations continue over the terms of the agreement and to resolve concerns from Washington and Beijing.

The deal is still to be reviewed by the US government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

US officials have expressed national security concerns that personal data collected on 100 million Americans who use the app could be obtained by China’s Communist Party government.

The Justice Department said a preliminary injunction would be "interfering with a formal national security judgment 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."

On September 19, the Commerce Department delayed the ban to give the companies an additional week to finalise a deal.

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 that would ban Tencent Holdings' WeChat from US app stores.

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