(AP)—The Biden administration is backing off former President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban the popular video app TikTok, asking a court to postpone a legal dispute over the proposed ban as the government begins a broader review of the national security threats posed by Chinese technology companies.
A court filing Wednesday said the U.S. Commerce Department is reviewing whether 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 U.S. takeover of TikTok, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Last year, the Trump administration brokered a deal that would have had U.S. 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 U.S. unless it accepted a greater degree of American control.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not deny the Journal report, but said Wednesday the Biden administration hasn’t taken a “new proactive step” in the process.
Psaki added that the Biden administration is comprehensively evaluating risks to U.S. 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, is ongoing, Psaki said. She didn’t offer a timetable for that process.
Trump targeted TikTok over the summer with a series of executive orders that cited concerns over the U.S. data that TikTok collects from its users. But courts temporarily blocked the White House’s attempted ban, and the presidential election soon took overshadowed the TikTok fight.
While President Joe Biden has said TikTok is a concern, his administration hadn’t said whether it will continue to try to ban TikTok or force a sale. Biden has so far taken a cautious approach to inheriting Trump’s China policies and hasn’t 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, Trump gave his tentative blessing to a proposal by TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance that would form a new U.S. 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 U.S. user data to Oracle. CFIUS, however, has not completed its required review of the arrangement. A government deadline for TikTok to sell its U.S. operations has passed.
TikTok has been looking to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review Trump’s divestment order and the government’s national-security review.
TikTok and Oracle didn’t return requests for comment Wednesday. Walmart declined comment Wednesday and referred questions to the Biden administration.
The Treasury Department, which chairs the CFIUS agency reviewing the TikTok deal, did not reply to a request for comment. Neither did the Commerce Department, which last year had sought to enforce Trump’s orders, nor the Justice Department, which is handling the court challenges.