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Second US court pauses Donald Trump’s TikTok ban on free speech grounds

By | Published on Monday 2 November 2020


A federal court in Pennsylvania issued an injunction on Friday blocking Donald Trump’s big TikTok ban, ruling that the executive orders issued by the US President against the video-sharing app likely violated the law via which the ban was justified.

Trump issued two executive orders against TikTok and its Chinese owner Bytedance back in August, the first banning US companies and citizens from transacting with the Chinese company, the second ordering Bytedance to sell off all its American assets.

The US government says the bans are necessary because of concerns that the Chinese government has access to TikTok’s global userbase and user data. The executive orders utilised powers granted to the President via America’s International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

However, Bytedance has argued that Trump ignored important limitations in that Act when issuing his executive orders. In particular, banning the use of TikTok would likely restrict the “personal communications” and sharing of “informational materials” by the app’s users, and doing so is not allowed under the IEEPA.

In September, a federal judge in Washington DC granted TikTok an injunction pausing the big ban after ruling that Bytedance’s arguments regarding the free speech limitations within the IEEPA were compelling.

Last week’s similar court ruling in Pennsylvania was in response to separate legal action filed by three creators who have built an audience on the TikTok platform: Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chamber. The judge hearing their case likewise ruled that Trump’s TikTok ban ignores the “informational materials” exception in the IEEPA.

TikTok itself welcomed the ruling in the separate creator-led legal action, telling reporters that the company was “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”.