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US government says court should not and cannot interfere in Bytedance ban based on TikTok employee’s complaint

By | Published on Friday 11 September 2020


The US Department Of Justice – aka the legal department of Planet Trump – has hit back at efforts by a TikTok employee to restrict those executive orders issued by the US President against the video-sharing app and its Chinese owner Bytedance.

Donald Trump has now issued two executive orders against TikTok and its owner. The first bans any American from transacting with Bytedance from later this month. The second orders Bytedance to sell off all its US assets by mid-November.

Officially those orders are based on concerns that the Chinese government has access to the global TikTok audience and user-data, and that that creates a security risk. TikTok, of course, says those concerns are unjustified, and that Trump’s government keeps ignoring the evidence it has presented to that effect.

Meanwhile, various people have suggested that the orders are more about Trump wanting to appear to be tough on China in the run-up to this year’s presidential elections. And/or are because TikTok users helped screw up a Trump rally earlier this year by encouraging people to book tickets with no intention of attending.

Legally speaking, Bytedance argues that the executive orders are illegal and unconstitutional, amounting to a misuse of US national security laws and failing to comply with processes mandated by the US constitution.

Similar claims were made in a separate lawsuit filed by TikTok exec Patrick Ryan, who is concerned that when this month’s Bytedance ban goes into effect the company’s American employees will no longer be able to be paid.

Having filed his lawsuit last month, Ryan recently requested a preliminary injunction from the court ordering the US Department Of Commerce to ensure that Trump’s executive order is not implemented in such a way as to impact on TikTok salaries.

Responding to that injunction request yesterday, the Department Of Justice presented various reasons why the court should not and cannot interfere in Trump’s TikTok ban.

Among other things, it argued that Ryan can’t prove he’ll be harmed by the executive order because it’s not yet clear whether it will impact on salaries.

Actually, in his legal filing, Ryan pointed out that that current uncertainty is part of the problem, but for the DoJ it’s a reason to reject his injunction request. And anyway, the government department went on, even if the ban does affect Ryan’s pay, that alone is not justification for an injunction.

As for the motivation behind the ban and the legitimacy – or not – of the security threat posed by China having – or not having – access to TikTok user-data in the US, that’s a political matter, and therefore not something the courts should be getting involved in.

Court intervention in this matter, therefore, is not justified, the DoJ concluded. Though, on the off chance that judges disagree, it added that any injunction should only relate to Ryan personally, not all and any employees of TikTok and Bytedance in the US.