By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Washington late on Sunday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that was set to bar Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google from offering Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok for download at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a nominee of President Donald Trump, who joined the court last year, said in a brief order he was issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the TikTok app store ban from taking effect.
Nichols declined “at this time” to block other Commerce Department restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 12 that TikTok has warned would have the impact of making the app unusable in the United States.
Nichols’ detailed written opinion is expected to be released as soon as Monday.
John E. Hall, a lawyer for TikTok, had argued during a 90-minute Sunday morning hearing that the ban was “unprecedented” and “irrational.”
“How does it make sense to impose this app store ban tonight when there are negotiations under way that might make it unnecessary?” Hall asked during the hearing. “This is just punitive. This is just a blunt way to whack the company. … There is simply no urgency here.”
U.S. officials have expressed national security concerns that personal data collected on 100 million Americans who use the app could be obtained by China’s Communist Party government.
ByteDance said on Sept. 20 it made a preliminary deal for Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to take stakes in a new company, TikTok Global, that would oversee U.S. operations. Negotiations continue over the terms of the agreement and to resolve concerns from Washington and Beijing.
The deal is still to be reviewed by the U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
The Justice Department said a preliminary injunction allowing Americans to continue downloading the TikTok app would be “interfering with a formal national security judgment of the president; altering the landscape with respect to ongoing CFIUS negotiations; and continuing to allow sensitive and valuable user information to flow to ByteDance with respect to all new users.”
On Sept. 19, the Commerce Department delayed the ban to give the companies an additional week to finalize a deal.
TikTok argues the restrictions, amid rising U.S.-China tensions under the Trump administration, “were not motivated by a genuine national security concern, but rather by political
considerations relating to the upcoming general election.”
Another U.S. judge, in Pennsylvania, on Saturday rejected a bid by three TikTok content creators to block the ban, while a judge in California has blocked a similar order from taking effect on Tencent Holdings’ WeChat app.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney)