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Report: Biden halts Trump order to sell Chinese-owned TikTok to US companies

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance. (Dreamstime/TNS)
February 11, 2021

On Wednesday, the Biden administration halted a ban initiated by former President Donald Trump on Chinese company TikTok, which included a deal Trump struck with TikTok to sell its U.S. operations to Oracle and Walmart.

The Biden administration filed a request with U.S. courts to stop the government’s appeal of an injunction that stopped Trump’s TikTok ban, The Wall Street Journal reported. The filing said the administration had launched a review to determine if TikTok’s national security threats alleged by Trump were credible enough to necessitate a ban.

TikTok and its umbrella company, Chinese-owned ByteDance Ltd., did not oppose the administration’s filing to delay legal proceedings.

On Aug. 6, 2020, Trump issued an executive order to block U.S. transactions with TikTok. TikTok filed suit in September to block the ban, and several judgments ruled in TikTok’s favor, with one Dec. 7 ruling stating that Trump’s ban violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A second Aug. 14 executive order driven by a Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. decision gave TikTok 90 days to divest from its Chinese ownership. Both the U.S. government and TikTok agreed several times to extend the deadline for TikTok to divest, ultimately until Feb. 18. On that date, the government is expected to provide an official response to TikTok’s lawsuit against Trump’s executive orders.

National security officials are actively holding talks with ByteDance representatives to discuss data security, including preventing the social media application from sharing data on American users with the Chinese government, people familiar with the talks told WSJ.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed only that an evaluation of data security was underway.

“I will note, broadly speaking, that we are comprehensively evaluating the risks to U.S. data including from TikTok and will address them in a decisive and effective fashion,” Psaki said.

Last month, experts who spoke with Business Insider had said the Trump-TikTok decision to delay the deadline into the Biden administration likely indicated an end to the divestment deal.

The Biden administration has separately discussed its plan to address the risk of U.S. data ending up in China’s possession.

“We plan to develop a comprehensive approach to securing U.S. data that addresses the full range of threats we face,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told WSJ. “This includes the risk posed by Chinese apps and other software that operate in the U.S. In the coming months, we expect to review specific cases in light of a comprehensive understanding of the risks we face.”

Next week, a Trump executive order banning U.S. transactions with eight Chinese-linked apps will go into effect. The Biden administration has not yet said whether it would make any changes to the order, or if it would enforce the order as it stands.