TikTok claims it had ‘no choice’ but to sue US government

25 Aug 2020

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TikTok has issued a lengthy statement explaining its decision to sue the US government over Donald Trump’s recent executive orders.

Following reports that TikTok was to take legal action against the US government, the company behind the popular video-sharing app has confirmed that a case has now been filed to the federal district court in California.

The case was taken in response to an executive order issued by the Trump administration on 14 August tasking ByteDance with selling off TikTok’s US operations within 90 days. It followed another order on 6 August banning any transactions with the app in the US unless it is sold by its Chinese parent company.

US president Donald Trump said that a ban was necessary to deal with the “national emergency” posed by the app, claiming that the spread of mobile apps developed and owned by companies in China continues to “threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy” of the US.

In a lengthy blog post explaining its decision for the lawsuit, TikTok said that “now is the time for us to act” and that it had “no choice but to take action to protect our rights”. The New York Times reported that the US Justice Department would not comment on the suit.

“By banning TikTok with no notice or opportunity to be heard (whether before or after the fact), the executive order violates the due process protections of the [US] Fifth Amendment,” the legal complaint stated.

“The order is ultra vires because it is not based on a bona fide national emergency and authorises the prohibition of activities that have not been found to pose ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat’.”

‘Prefer constructive dialogue over litigation’

TikTok also argued that the US administration is ignoring the “great lengths” the company has gone to in terms of filling top positions with Americans based in the US who are not subject to Chinese law, including its CEO, chief security official and general counsel.

The company said that TikTok is used by 100m Americans. It added that it employs more than 1,500 people in the US and claimed to have 10,000 more jobs planned.

“To be clear, we far prefer constructive dialogue over litigation,” it said.

“But with the executive order threatening to bring a ban on our US operations – eliminating the creation of 10,000 American jobs and irreparably harming the millions of Americans who turn to this app for entertainment, connection and legitimate livelihoods that are vital especially during the pandemic – we simply have no choice.”

It comes as a Reuters report stated that a number of ByteDance investors including General Atlantic are looking to take large stakes in a potential TikTok sale. Under this restructuring plan, Microsoft or Oracle could take a minority stake.

However, sources familiar with negotiations told Reuters that Microsoft remains the lead bidder for TikTok, with the US tech giant’s resources to design new algorithms seen to be working in its favour.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic