US maintains plan for TikTok download ban; court to rule

US president Donald Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and WeChat. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 September 2020

US maintains plan for TikTok download ban; court to rule

  • A Justice Department court filing said it opposes TikTok’s petition for an injunction
  • Donald Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and WeChat

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration said Friday it would not back down from a plan to ban new US downloads of the popular video-sharing app TikTok, setting up a court showdown ahead of a Sunday deadline.
A Justice Department court filing said it opposes TikTok’s petition for an injunction to block the order from President Donald Trump, who has called the Chinese-owned social platform a national security risk.
US District Judge Carl Nichols set a hearing for Sunday at 9a.m. in Washington for TikTok’s request to block the president’s order before it goes into effect at 11:59p.m. Sunday.
The government lawyers said they wanted to file a brief “under seal,” which would not be available as a public record, citing national security and confidential business information.
The court filing said TikTok had tentatively agreed to sealed briefs but would reserve the right to request that some documents be made public.
TikTok has argued that a ban, even if temporary, could cause irreparable harm to the video-sharing application, which has some 100 million US users.
Nichols, who sits on the bench in Washington, told a telephone hearing on Thursday he disagreed with government lawyers’ claims that the ban — which would not immediately prevent usage of TikTok but prevent downloads by new users and updates — “merely preserves the status quo.”
Analysts also pointed out that any ban could prevent users from downloading updates and security patches for TikTok.
Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and the popular Chinese app WeChat — which has been put on hold in a separate court case in California.
But the TikTok order stops short of a full ban until November 12, giving the Chinese parent firm ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.
A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
The status of the deal, which would include investment from US retail giant Walmart, remained unclear as the parties awaited word on whether it would win approval in Beijing.
As part of its earlier court filing, a statement from TikTok interim head Vanessa Pappas said the proposed ban would be devastating for the social platform, which had been surging in much of the world.
A ban “will cause our user base to stagnate and then precipitously decline,” Pappas said.
She noted that until July 1, when rumors of a ban first began to circulate, TikTok was adding some 424,000 new US users each day.
The TikTok petition also speculated that Trump was retaliating because of reports the app was used by his critics to snatch up tickets to a campaign rally in Tulsa to which they had no intention of going – an event which flopped with significantly fewer people in attendance than expected.


Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Updated 30 November 2020

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

  • Founder of Unitas Communications says Kingdom has ‘set a precedent’ in its handling of both events

LONDON: According to one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, Muddassar Ahmed, Saudi Arabia has “not only done an admirable job but has set a precedent for other nations to follow” with regard to its handling of Hajj amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Hajj pilgrimage during the pandemic was a brave one, all the more so because it is a religious occasion that hundreds of thousands of people spend their lives preparing for,” Ahmed, the founder of Unitas Communications, told Arab News.

“To tell people making a once-in-a-lifetime journey that their plans must be put on hold cannot have been easy. But it was without a doubt the right thing to do. In our religion, the protection and preservation of life are of paramount value,” he added.

Ahmed, one of the UK’s top 1000 most influential people, also praised the Kingdom’s handling of the G20 summit last month after deciding to go fully virtual, calling it “absolutely the correct course of action.”

“In both instances, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for other countries to follow. We can contrast its proactive, forward-thinking and compassionate approach, as well as its own COVID-19 statistics, with other countries’ track records,” he said.

Countering extremism as a British Muslim

Ahmed is not only known for his role as a communications expert, but also as a leading figure in the Muslim community in the UK, countering hate speech and the rise of extremism as an advisor to the British government on anti-Muslim hatred.

“As a born-and-bred British Muslim, this is not just important to me on a policy level but on a deeply personal level. I have dedicated my life to improving relationships between Muslim and other communities and I believe that, through Unitas and other projects I have dedicated myself to, we have made tremendous progress in improving the image and position of Muslims in Britain and the West,” Ahmed, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims worldwide three times, said.

Before founding Unitas, Ahmed was an activist campaigning against the Iraq war and founder/host of East London’s Radio Ramadan shows.

“I soon realized that adversarial campaigning only went so far. I was concerned by the growing divide between Muslims and wider society, between the Islamic world and the West, and I wanted — I needed — to help heal these divides, to bridge these allegedly irreconcilable narratives,” he explained.

Soon after, he teamed up with fellow East Londoner and childhood classmate Shiraz Ahmad to give birth to the world’s first public relations agency dedicated to bridging the gap between the Islamic and Western worlds: Unitas Communications.

One of the group’s first clients was the National Health Service, which needed to access hard-to-reach minority communities in East London.

It was not long before their work earned the attention of people invested in efforts to do the same. A few years after the start of the Iraq War and after the 7/7 2005 London terrorist attacks, community cohesion in the UK was at an all-time low.

The UN’s Alliance of Civilizations then reached out to Unitas to “see minority and Muslim communities have the training and develop the skills necessary to engage effectively and constructively in wider British society.”

Ahmed and Unitas’s work is not restricted to the UK alone, with the group and its founder earning praise and recognition from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the City of New York.

Brexit and what is to come

While many businesses have been critical of Brexit and its potential consequences, Ahmed looks to the bright side of matters and instead calls it “an opportunity for Britain to reset its narrative on the world stage.”

“I have every confidence in the ability of the British nation to reinvent itself,” he added, explaining that “Unitas operations extend across continents in order to connect people, cultures and ideas and to make communicating effective and impactful.”

With regard to what the future holds for Unitas in such uncertain times, Ahmed remains optimistic.

“The future will see Unitas continuing to work with leading international brands and expanding its presence across Europe and the Middle East and deeper into Southeast Asia. But I should also say that a major priority for us has always been the US. We’ve had major American clients, like the National Football League and the US State Department,” he said.

“We will continue to choose clients who contribute to making the world a more understanding place, and we will engage those relationships to improve the world, to leave things better off than where they were when we started.

Because this work isn’t just a business to me or my team. It’s a moral calling.”