TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, has been in the crosshairs of the US government for months now. While there have been several attempts to ban the app over national security concerns, it remains unclear whether a prohibition will take effect anytime soon. Here’s why:
Trump’s Attempt to Ban TikTok with an Executive Order
Former President Donald Trump had attempted to ban TikTok in July 2020, citing national security concerns. He issued two executive orders in August 2020, one banning the app and another demanding the sale of its US business to American companies. However, banning the app would still be challenged under the First Amendment, and greater legal questions would remain, according to John Costello, who oversaw the creation of the office at the Commerce Department to examine certain foreign technology for national security threats.
Negotiations between TikTok and the Biden Administration
Meanwhile, the executive order forcing a divestment remains mired in negotiations between TikTok and the Biden administration over a potential national security agreement that could resolve the concerns prompting the ordered sale. The Biden administration has demanded TikTok’s owners divest their stakes in the popular video app or face a possible ban.
How a Bill Becomes a Law
Washington lawmakers have also launched two separate bills aimed at allowing the president to ban apps like TikTok on grounds they pose a risk to U.S. national security. The most likely to succeed is the RESTRICT Act, which the White House supports. However, the bill still needs companion bills in the other chamber, as well as enough support to pass both houses and then President Joe Biden’s signature. Even if the RESTRICT Act is passed this year, the Commerce Department has up to six months to begin reviewing transactions with the new authorities, and up to six additional months to complete the reviews and take action.
TikTok’s Day in Court
TikTok is likely to challenge any attempt to ban the app. The company was ultimately successful in quashing Trump’s effort to ban the app in the US. “The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to access social media platforms of their choice,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “To justify a TikTok ban, the government would have to demonstrate that privacy and security concerns can’t be addressed in narrower ways. The government hasn’t demonstrated this, and we doubt it could. Restricting access to a speech platform that is used by millions of Americans every day would set a dangerous precedent for regulating our digital public sphere more broadly.”