Can Trump Actually Ban TikTok and WeChat?

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On Friday, the Trump administration said it would ban the Chinese-owned mobile apps TikTok and WeChat on U.S. app stores as of midnight on September 20. Both apps are highly popular among teenagers and young millennials worldwide and used by more than 100 million people. 

The move was a significant escalation in the Trump administration’s alleged cybersecurity fight with China. The administration plans to completely ban TikTok on November 12 unless the company can prove it doesn’t pose a threat to U.S. national security. 

Why are TikTok and WeChat downloads banned?

The Trump administration has claimed TikTok is a risk to national security due to its Chinese ownership. The administration has alleged that the Chinese government could require TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to hand over the app’s user data. Trump and his administration have voiced fears that U.S. users’ safety and privacy could be compromised. TikTok has repeatedly stated that it stores data outside of China and that it would refuse any request by Beijing for data about U.S. users.

On Sunday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s ban of WeChat, owned by Tencent, from U.S. app stores due to China’s national security concerns. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed in August by a group of WeChat users who argued that Trump’s ban was unconstitutional. 

Why has Trump been going after TikTok and WeChat?

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that President Donald Trump wants to protect American consumers and businesses from “the threats of the Chinese Communist Party.” However, this statement may only tell part of the story.

On June 20, President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Young Trump opponents, many of them teenagers and K-Pop fans on TikTok, made a plan to reserve seats they had no intention of using at the rally – and then did exactly that. They bulk-reserved thousands of seats, and the Tulsa rally thus appeared mostly empty. This event most likely further fanned the flames for the Trump administration to ban TikTok.

On August 6, Trump signed an executive order against TikTok that relied on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president the authority to regulate economic transactions in the event of a national emergency. Trump intended this order to prohibit Americans from making any transactions involving the properties of ByteDance and its subsidiaries. The order would mean that businesses and people in the United States could not legally transact with TikTok.

What happens to people who have TikTok or WeChat downloaded?

The Trump administration’s ban on September 20 attempts to make it harder for WeChat to operate in the U.S. since it blocks the critical technical services of other companies. U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler filed a preliminary injunction to block the federal order to ban WeChat.

For users who have already downloaded TikTok, the app should still work normally for now. However, users may be blocked from getting important app updates that fix bugs, possibly leaving them vulnerable to security threats. 

Are the TikTok and WeChat bans legal?

The WeChat Users Alliance sued the Trump administration over the potential WeChat ban. The user group claimed the order violates First Amendment free speech rights. They also stated that they are being unfairly targeted because WeChat connects users with the Chinese community. WeChat users often use the app to talk to friends and family in China, where other messaging apps may be partially or entirely banned.

On Friday, TikTok filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the Commerce Department’s decree that TikTok would not be available to download from app stores. TikTok alleged that the Trump administration had denied the app’s owners their due process of law. The company also stated the ban is due to political reasons rather than security reasons. 

On Saturday, the day before the TikTok download ban was set to take place, the Trump administration announced a delay and postponed the ban to September 27. President Trump announced the delay was due to a merger involving Oracle and Walmart through which TikTok would create new American jobs. 

President Trump said the new U.S.-based TikTok entity would be called TikTok Global. Their headquarters will “most likely” be located in Texas, and the company is expected to hire at least 25,000 new workers. The ban is expected to drive business for Oracle, a data storage company that has long supported the Trump administration.

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