Trump orders targeted in TikTok employee's GoFundMe legal fight
As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign has raised nearly half of its goal
A TikTok employee in the United States has launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of its entire U.S. staff in an effort to raise funds to file an injunction against the White House's executive orders aimed the popular video platform and its Chinese parent company ByteDance.
"There are two executive orders, and we'd like to stop them,” technical program manager Patrick Ryan said in a video shared on Monday. "We’re looking at our own rights as employees here of ByteDance in the United States and we’d like your help."
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In early August, President Trump signed a pair of executive orders that would ban TikTok and WeChat from doing business in the United States unless their operations were sold off to an American company.
On Friday, President Trump signed another executive order requiring ByteDance to divest all U.S. assets, including the popular video app, within 90 days, which prohibits "any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd. (a.k.a. Zìjié Tiàodòng), Beijing, China, or its subsidiaries" as defined by the Department of Commerce.
The rule also requires the app to delete all of its user data following concerns by the White House that the information could potentially be given to the Chinese government.
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Ryan argues that the restriction means "approximately 1,500 ByteDance and TikTok employees in the USA will lose their paychecks as of September 20, 2020, because “any transaction by any person” is illegal after the order goes into effect."
"Employees of TikTok have Constitutional rights and interests in this situation that are separate from our employer’s. Please help us assert those rights by raising $30,000 to file an injunction so that a court can order the government to change the order so that TikTok can still pay employees," Ryan wrote. "Although it will cost much more to fully litigate the issue, we believe we can obtain an injunction with this initial budget. We are only asking only for the right to continue to receive paychecks, not for anything else: no damages or any other payout."
While TikTok has threatened to take legal action against the orders, they say they have no involvement in the crowdfunding campaign.
"We disagree with the Executive Order, as we expressed in a recent blog post," A spokesperson for TikTok said. "That said, We have no involvement with and are not coordinating on the initiative of employees that has been undertaken in their personal capacity outside of work. We respect the rights of employees to engage in concerted activity to seek due process of law."
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The TikTok employees are represented by Blackstone Law Group's John Lovi and Justin Perri as well as internet rights lawyer Mike Godwin.
Alexander Urbelis, a partner at Blackstone Law Group, said that the firm was prompted to take the case because the language of the order allows the Commerce Department to define the terms of what consititutes a transaction after it is already in effect, putting the livelihoods of U.S. TikTok employees in jeopardy.
"It would be an inadequate remedy for us to wait for that period and wait for the altruism of the Department of Commerce in defining and scoping what the word transaction means because if they get it wrong and they don't take into account the United States employees of TikTok, it could be disastrous for well over a thousand families," Urbelis said.
He noted that the injunction could offer a variety of options, from preventing the Department of Commerce from defining what a transaction is so that the salaries and payments of the United States employees are unaffected by the order to limiting the applicability and enforcement of the order itself.
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While he acknowledges the president's concerns about the risks that come with the collection of user data, Urbelis pointed out that companies in the U.S. technology sector have profited off of doing the same thing and that the real issue is the government's lack of policy surrounding privacy and data governance in general.
"What we should be doing instead of capitalizing on hypothetical dangerousness, is taking a very hard look at the mirror about how we govern data in the United States, how we regulate it, and what are the practices and procedures that we need to put in place so that data about American citizens cannot so easily fall into the hands of a foreign adversary," Urbelis said.
He added that the fears with TikTok are only hypothetical at this point and that the platform's employees are still entitled to due process.
"The president has a lot of leeway when it comes to national security issues," Urbelis said. "But there has got to be boundaries of executive power and we still have to respect traditional notions of fairness and due process."
According to Urbelis, Blackstone Law Group is prepared to file the injunction as early as this week, but will likely wait a few extra days to build up the evidence for their case before officially filing the paperwork.
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Ryan did not immediately return FOX Business' requests for comment. The White House declined to officially comment.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign has generated nearly $14,000, almost half of its intended goal.