U.S. court hears appeal against order blocking TikTok app store ban


FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Tik Tok logo is placed on a keyboard in front of U.S. flag in this illustration taken Oct. 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday questioned a government lawyer over the Trump administration's efforts to ban Americans from downloading Chinese-owned TikTok from U.S. app stores.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington on Sept. 27 blocked the Commerce Department order hours before it was to prohibit new downloads of the short video-sharing app.

The ban would have required Apple Inc and Alphabet's Google to remove the app from their stores, preventing new users from downloading it or existing users downloading updated versions. It would not have stopped existing users from accessing the app on their devices.

Appeals Court Judges Judith Rogers, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins questioned lawyers for TikTok and the government for nearly 90 minutes on Monday morning. All three judges were nominated by previous Democratic presidents.

Two of the judges expressed skepticism with a central government argument about whether a prior case is applicable.

"I know you say it but Congress wrote this language -- it seems to just fly in the face of that," Rogers said.

On Dec. 4, the Trump administration opted not to grant TikTok-owner ByteDance a new extension of an order requiring the company to divest TikTok's U.S. assets. A lawyer for TikTok, Beth Brinkmann, said during the court hearing there are "ongoing talks" over the app's fate.

President Donald Trump's order, issued in August, gave the Justice Department the power to enforce the divestiture order once the deadline expired. But over a week has passed and the department has not gone to court seeking to compel divestiture.

The administration contends TikTok poses national security concerns as the personal data of U.S. users could be obtained by China's government. TikTok, which has over 100 million U.S. users, denies the allegation.

Under pressure from the U.S. government, ByteDance has been in talks for months to finalize a deal with Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to shift TikTok's U.S. assets into a new entity aimed to satisfy the divestiture order.

On Dec. 7, Judge Nichols separately granted a preliminary injunction blocking the U.S. Commerce Department from imposing restrictions on TikTok that would have effectively barred its use in the United States.

Nichols issued an order in a suit filed by ByteDance after U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Pennsylvania earlier blocked the same restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 12.

Beetlestone also blocked the app store ban. A separate appeals court in Philadelphia is tentatively set to hold arguments on her ruling on Feb. 11.

The Commerce Department had sought to bar data hosting within the United States for TikTok, content delivery services and other technical transactions.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Himani Sarker, Dan Grebler and Richard Pullin)

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