Tiktok Sues US Over Divestiture Law: Echoes Of India’s Ban?

Posted On - 3 July, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva

In a move with global implications, the popular social media platform TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has filed a lawsuit against the United States government. The lawsuit challenges a recently enacted law that forces ByteDance to either divest ownership of TikTok or face a complete ban within the US.[1] This situation bears a resemblance to the 2020 decision by the Indian government to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns.[2]

The Recurring Debate over TikTok and National Security

The US Scenario

  • The recently enacted law in the US, titled the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” presents a significant challenge for TikTok.
  • The law mandates that ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, must divest its ownership of the social media platform within a timeframe of 270 days, with a potential 90-day extension granted by the President upon demonstration of substantial progress.
  • Failure to comply with the divestiture requirement will result in a nationwide ban on TikTok within the US.
  • This ban would encompass removal from app stores and the discontinuation of web hosting services for the platform.
  • The central justification behind this legislation lies in concerns raised by US officials.
  • These concerns centre on the potential for the Chinese government to access sensitive user data or manipulate public opinion through its ownership of TikTok.

Response from TikTok and ByteDance

  • In response to this law, TikTok and ByteDance have initiated legal proceedings through a lawsuit filed in the US Court of Appeals.
  • The lawsuit argues that the law violates the US Constitution on several grounds.
  • Firstly, they contend that the mandated divestiture infringes upon the First Amendment rights of American users. They argue that the law effectively silences a significant platform for free speech, and the restrictions placed on TikTok are not narrowly tailored to address specific national security concerns.
  • Secondly, the lawsuit emphasizes the logistical and technical difficulties in complying with the strict divestiture timeline. They claim that the 270-day timeframe is “commercially, technologically, and legally infeasible,” forcing a potential shutdown of TikTok by January 2025.
  • Lastly, the lawsuit argues that the law is an unconstitutional “bill of attainder,” which essentially punishes specific entities without a fair trial. They claim the law unfairly targets TikTok and ByteDance by singling them out for divestiture without due process.

Comparison with India

  • The situation in the US bears some resemblance to the Indian government’s decision to ban TikTok in 2020.
  • Similar to the US, India cited national security concerns as a primary reason for the ban via a PIB notification dated June 29, 2020.[3]
  • The Indian government expressed anxieties about the potential for user data to be accessed by the Chinese government and potentially used for harmful purposes.
  • Rule 9 of the IT Blocking Rules 2009[4] allowed the government to impose a “geoblock” without a prior hearing for an online intermediary, assuming an ‘emergency’ exists.
  • Furthermore, Section 69A of the IT Act allowed the government to block information deemed “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, public order, decency or morality or concerning contempt of court or incitement to an offence.” The government stated that potential misuse of user data by a foreign government would fall under these categories.
  • While the specific legal arguments used by TikTok in the US case differ slightly from those potentially employed in India due to variations in legal systems, concerns over national security and data privacy would likely have been central arguments against the Indian ban as well.

Current Situation

  • TikTok and ByteDance’s lawsuit against the US Government seeks to block the law’s implementation.
  • This is not the first attempt to restrict TikTok in the US. Previous efforts, including executive orders issued by former President Trump, faced legal challenges and were ultimately blocked. [5]

Looking Forward

As TikTok and ByteDance challenge the new US divestiture law in court, the case’s outcome could have far-reaching implications for global internet governance and the balance between national security and civil liberties. This lawsuit echoes the Indian government’s 2020 TikTok ban, highlighting the recurring debate over national security concerns versus free speech rights. Both cases underscore the complex challenges governments face in regulating foreign-owned digital platforms amid fears of data misuse and influence over public opinion. Looking forward, the resolution of this legal battle in the US could set a precedent for how other countries address similar issues, potentially influencing future legislation and international digital policy frameworks. The broader implications will likely shape the strategies of global tech companies and their interactions with government regulations worldwide.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/07/business/tiktok-ban-appeal.html.

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2024/03/14/tech/india-us-tiktok-ban-analysis-intl-hnk/index.html.

[3] https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1635206.


[5] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/why-is-the-trump-administration-banning-tiktok-and-wechat/.