President Trump on Friday ordered TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell its U.S. assets in 90 days, stating American authorities have “credible evidence” that the Chinese tech giant could take action to imperil national security.
Last week, Trump signed a separate executive order that would effectively ban the popular video-sharing app by making any transactions between U.S. citizens and TikTok illegal starting in 45 days from its signing. After last week’s strike against TikTok, a lawyer with the app told NPR that a lawsuit is being prepared to challenge the legality of Trump’s action.
Stewart Baker, the former general counsel at the National Security Agency, said the additional order targeting TikTok will serve as “an assurance” that the administration can pressure an American company to acquire the app, or the app will be banned altogether from the U.S.
If the initial executive order comes under attack by a lawsuit, Baker said the new one will likely be able to withstand a legal challenge.
“The other executive order is untested in the courts. The law there isn’t settled,” Baker said on Friday. “This new order is different because it comes from CFIUS, where there is clear statutory procedures to do what it just did.”
Baker is referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a group led by the Treasury Department and including top officials such as those from the Justice Department and Homeland Security.
The committee investigates acquisitions involving foreign companies that may pose national security risks. For months, it has been probing ByteDance’s takeover of American lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2016. The merger led to a new company, TikTok, which has emerged as the first Chinese-owned app to find global success.
“CFIUS conducted an exhaustive review of the case and unanimously recommended this action to the president in order to protect U.S. users from exploitation of their personal data,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
TikTok did not immediately return a request for comment.
The order requires that any data linked to American citizens derived by TikTok or its precursor Musical.ly be destroyed.
For more than a year, White House officials have been scrutinizing possible national security risks of TikTok. The company says it has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the U.S. Most videos feature comedic impersonations, dance routines or lip-syncing. About a third of its users in America are 14 years old or younger, according to a report in the New York Times.
TikTok collects data on U.S. users on par with apps owned by major American technology companies. But privacy lawyers suing TikTok in a class-action lawsuit say personal data, like the faces of users who are children, are being collected without consent. In a new filing on Friday, the privacy attorneys say information about what videos users are watching is allegedly being shared without user consent with Facebook and Google.
The Trump administration worries the troves of data TikTok is harvesting on U.S. citizens can be shared with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok has distanced itself from its Beijing owner, saying data on Americans is stored in the U.S. and that it never has received a request for information from authorities in China.
U.S. tech company Microsoft is among a number of American companies in talks to acquire TikTok’s U.S. operations.