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Judge halts Trump administration ban on TikTok downloads

Judge halts Trump administration ban on TikTok downloads


The ban would have taken effect Sunday at midnight

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Tessellated TikTok logos against a dark background.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A judge granted a preliminary injunction to video-sharing app TikTok on Sunday, blocking a ban on new downloads in the US that would have gone into effect at midnight. US District Judge Carl Nichols issued his decision to grant a preliminary injunction just after 8PM ET, but his opinion has been sealed, pending review by the two sides’ attorneys. Nichols did not block “at this time” restrictions by the Commerce Department set to go into effect on November 12th, however.

Attorneys for TikTok argued Sunday morning during a dial-in hearing that a ban by the Trump administration would be “devastating,” and urged a judge to block it until the entire case can be decided. TikTok’s attorney said the ban that would prevent new downloads of TikTok from Apple and Google’s app stores at 11:59PM ET today was essentially “shutting down speech.” But the government’s lawyers argued that First Amendment claims by TikTok don’t apply, because the Trump administration considers the app a national security risk.

On August 6th, President Trump issued an order saying the security concerns about TikTok and WeChat, both China-based apps, constituted a national emergency. He invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which lets him ban transactions between US and foreign entities. President Trump then issued an order August 14th giving ByteDance 90 days to either sell or spin off its TikTok business in the US. That order is set to go into effect on November 12th and will effectively halt the app’s operations.

On September 18th, the Commerce Department issued an order to block transactions with both TikTok parent company ByteDance and WeChat, effective September 20th.

But on September 19th, a tentative deal was announced that would create a new company, TikTok Global, based in the US and tasked with processing and storage for all US-based TikTok users. Oracle would become TikTok’s trusted security partner under the terms of the deal. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross then delayed the ban until September 27th at 11:59PM.

The app store ban is “arbitrary and capricious,” TikTok attorney John Hall argued Sunday. The company also says that the August 6th order should not apply, since IEEPA excludes information and communication technologies.

“This is one of the fastest growing apps in the world, and those new users are the lifeblood of this business, which is true of any social media platform,” said Hall. “If it disappears from the app stores, the effect would be devastating with respect to users, content, creators, and would damage its reputation with advertisers.”

Lawyers for the US government argued that preventing new users on the app would allow the Commerce department to address the most serious national security risks. But such a ban would also block existing users from receiving new security updates to the app.

A TikTok spokesperson said in an email to The Verge Sunday night that the company was pleased with the judge’s decision, and said it planned to “maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the President gave his preliminary approval to last weekend, into an agreement.”

Under Nichols’ order, the two sides must review his sealed opinion to determine whether it can be unsealed, and both sides will meet by September 30th to schedule further proceedings in the case.

Update: September 27th, 8:24PM ET: Adds judge’s decision to halt the ban on new TikTok downloads.

Update September 27th, 8:56PM ET: Adds comment from TikTok