The Biden administration is backing away from Donald Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok, asking a court to postpone a legal dispute over the proposed move as it reviews national security threats posed by Chinese technology companies.
A court filing on Wednesday said the US Commerce Department was reviewing whether former president Trump’s claims about TikTok’s threat to national security justified the attempts to ban it from smartphone app stores and deny it vital technical services.
Separately, the Biden administration has “indefinitely” shelved a proposed US takeover of TikTok, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Last year, the Trump administration brokered a deal that would have had US corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in the Chinese-owned app on national-security grounds.
The unusual arrangement stemmed from a Trump executive order that aimed to ban TikTok in the US unless it accepted a greater degree of American control.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not deny the Journal report, but said on Wednesday the Biden administration had not taken a “new proactive step” in the process.
Ms Psaki added the Biden administration was comprehensively evaluating risks to US data, including those involving TikTok. A review of TikTok by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which considers national security implications of such investments, was ongoing, Ms Psaki said. She didn’t offer a timetable for that process.
Mr Trump targeted TikTok over the summer with a series of executive orders that cited concerns over the US data TikTok collects from its users.
But courts temporarily blocked the White House’s attempted ban, and the presidential election soon overshadowed the TikTok fight.
While President Joe Biden has said TikTok is a concern, his administration has not said whether it will continue to try to ban TikTok or force a sale. Mr Biden has so far taken a cautious approach to inheriting Mr Trump’s China policies and has not promised to scale back or cancel tariffs and other combative measures.
The Biden administration appears to be creating a clearer set of criteria to evaluate which Chinese technology platforms pose a legitimate security risk to Americans, said Samm Sacks, a China expert at Yale Law School.
“I don’t think they see TikTok itself as a high-priority issue,” she said, calling it a hypothetical future threat. “This one-off ban on a rotating cast of Chinese tech companies, that’s not likely to continue.”
In September, Mr Trump gave his tentative blessing to a proposal by TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance that would form a new US arm of TikTok in partnership with Oracle and Walmart, who would make significant investments in the new company.
The arrangement aimed to hand management of the app’s US user data to Oracle. CFIUS, however, has not completed its required review of the arrangement. A government deadline for TikTok to sell its US operations has passed.
TikTok has been looking to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review Mr Trump’s divestment order and the government’s national-security review.