TikTok Ban Moving Forward in the Name of National Security, But Legal Challenges Await

by | Apr 30, 2024

With President Biden’s signature on a Senate-approved bill, the TikTok ban has become a reality. The only remaining obstacle is a court challenge that owner ByteDance has promised, but this is an area in which they have won before. The administration has bipartisan support backing a ban for national security reasons, but the earliest it could happen would be after the start of 2025.

Public perception clashes with government’s national security concerns

The government has a valid theoretical national security concern, one that has already led to TikTok bans on most federal devices and at numerous state and local levels. China’s own national security law allows it to freely access any data that private companies in its territory hold, which means it would almost certainly take possession of US user data. This could then in turn be used for propaganda and direct espionage targeting purposes, among other things.

The argument is not landing well with a US public that has almost half its population on the app, however, using it for entertainment and community and in some cases making a living from it. ByteDance has also appeared to bend over backward to fend off a TikTok ban, acquiescing to numerous terms since 2020 meant to entirely separate US user data from China. But internal leaks from ByteDance that show US data is still making its way there, which have largely stayed in the world of cybersecurity news and out of the mainstream, have caused many Republicans and Democrats in government to decide the national security threat is always going to be too great.

ByteDance will first challenge the TikTok ban in court, but should that fail, the company is indicating it will not sell the app. At best, it might sell a hollowed-out version that does not include its vital recommendation algorithm, essentially giving some US company the brand name and its existing stores of user data.

Tumultuous TikTok ban has been in the works since 2019

Former president Trump first tried a TikTok ban via executive order in 2020, but the saga dates back to the year before when several policy papers examining its potential level of national security threat came out. The end is finally in sight in 2025, when ByteDance will either have been successful in winning a court case blocking the action or likely will have decided to exit the US market rather than sell.

The court challenge will likely center on whether the First Amendment rights of US users are being violated by the ban, given that it hinges on a national security concern that is very difficult to produce direct evidence for. The app will remain under normal operation in the US until at least the end of the year, but could be delisted from the app stores as early as January. The bill gives the administration the option of extending that deadline until April 2025 if need be.

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