Business

TikTok warns of US ban without free speech court ruling

TikTok has launched a long-awaited legal fight to stop its Chinese owner being forced to sell the short video platform’s US operations, arguing it violates Americans’ rights to free speech.

TikTok and Chinese parent ByteDance were told in April they had until January next year to divest TikTok in the US or face the prospect of the app being banned in the country.

Legislation, signed by President Joe Biden, gives the US government the power to demand such sales on national security grounds.

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The concern in this case centres on perceived risks that data on TikTok’s 170 million American users could be harvested by Beijing and that TikTok could be compelled by the Chinese authorities to spy on them.

It has insisted this is not about trying to ban TikTok but Thursday’s filing contested that that was the inevitable conclusion if the new law was to stand.

ByteDance said a sale was “not possible technologically, commercially, or legally”.

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The filings also argued that the law violates Americans’ rights to free speech under the constitution and revealed a spend of $2bn on efforts to protect US user data.

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Will the US ban TikTok?

Under a document released at the same time, the pair committed to giving the US government power – described as a “kill switch” to suspend TikTok in the country if it failed to adhere to a series of national security and data commitments.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hear arguments on lawsuits filed by TikTok, ByteDance
and TikTok users on 16 September.

“This law is a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open Internet, and sets a dangerous
precedent allowing the political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or be shut down,” ByteDance and TikTok said in their application.

“This administration has determined that it prefers to try to shut down TikTok in the United States and eliminate a
platform of speech for 170 million Americans, rather than continue to work on a practical, feasible, and effective
solution to protect US users through an enforceable agreement”, TikTok lawyers said.

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They contend that if the national security law culminates in a ban on TikTok, it should be applied to other Chinese-owned entities across the US.

The legal fight is expected to become an election issue as former president Donald Trump, who recently joined TikTok, has spoken out against a ban.

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