Home Latest Insights | News As Negotiation with US Government fails, TikTok Counts on Court to Stay in Operation in US

As Negotiation with US Government fails, TikTok Counts on Court to Stay in Operation in US

As Negotiation with US Government fails, TikTok Counts on Court to Stay in Operation in US

In the lingering saga that has captured the attention of tech enthusiasts and policymakers alike, ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, has laid bare the details of its prolonged and ultimately futile negotiations with the U.S. government.

These discussions, which ByteDance claims to have meticulously engaged in, came to an abrupt halt in August 2022. The company has since released a redacted version of a substantial 100-plus page draft agreement designed to address national security concerns surrounding the data of U.S. TikTok users.

In a statement, ByteDance disclosed that it has poured over $2 billion into efforts to meet U.S. security demands. The draft national security agreement proposed robust measures to safeguard U.S. user data. One of the most stringent provisions was the granting of a “kill switch” to the U.S. government.

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This would allow the U.S. to suspend TikTok’s operations within its borders if ByteDance failed to comply with the terms of the agreement. Additionally, there was a demand for TikTok’s source code to be moved out of China, further highlighting the depth of distrust and the necessary measures to protect national security.

In an email to the Justice Department made public, TikTok’s legal team expressed their dismay at the abrupt end of negotiations, accusing the administration of favoring a complete shutdown over finding a workable solution.

“This administration has determined that it prefers to try to shut down TikTok in the United States and eliminate a platform of speech for 170 million Americans, rather than continue to work on a practical, feasible, and effective solution to protect U.S. users through an enforceable agreement with the U.S. government,” the email stated.

While the Justice Department has refrained from commenting on the email directly, it has defended the legislation that addresses these national security concerns, noting that the measures are consistent with constitutional limitations, including the First Amendment. The department has also stated its readiness to defend the legislation in court.

The friction between ByteDance and the U.S. government is not a recent development. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok and WeChat, owned by Tencent, on national security grounds. These efforts, however, were blocked by the courts.

The Biden administration has maintained a strong stance on the issue, pushing for the end of Chinese ownership of TikTok to mitigate perceived risks to national security. Recently, U.S. lawmakers passed a bill aimed at banning TikTok, which President Biden signed into law. Also, TikTok has moved to develop a version of the algorithm that operates independently of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to address the security.

However, the company says any divestiture or separation – even if technically possible – would take years.

Beyond federal actions, several U.S. states have enacted their own laws prohibiting the use of TikTok on official government devices. These state-level bans reflect a broad consensus across the political spectrum about the potential security risks posed by the app.

ByteDance has been proactive in trying to align with U.S. security requirements, emphasizing its significant financial commitments. Despite spending over $2 billion on compliance measures, the company finds itself at a critical juncture.

Impact on TikTok’s Operations and Future

The legislation signed by President Biden specifically targets TikTok, prohibiting app stores operated by companies like Apple and Google from offering the app. Additionally, it bans internet hosting services from supporting TikTok unless ByteDance divests its ownership.

The ongoing legal and regulatory battles will determine whether TikTok can continue to operate in the U.S. or if it will be forced to divest from ByteDance or cease operations entirely. The outcome will affect the platform’s 170 million American users, some of whom have sued the government in defense of their free speech rights, citing the First Amendment.

They argued on Thursday in a filing that it is clear there are no imminent national security risks because the law “allows TikTok to continue operating through the rest of this year — including during an election that the very president who signed the bill says is existential for our democracy.”

TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance are in court also, challenging the new law, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia set to hear oral arguments on September 16.

The company argues that “This law is a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open Internet, and sets a dangerous precedent allowing the political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or be shut down,” asking the court to strike down the law.

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