Hours after Culver City-based TikTok filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump Monday over his recent executive order, an employee of the viral video app separately followed suit. The double-barreled legal salvos are a strong pushback against the order and weeks of rhetoric against Chinese-backed technology companies.
U.S.-based TikTok technical program manager Patrick S. Ryan told dot.LA that he took action after becoming upset and uncomfortable with the order issued earlier this month to ban any "transactions" with the popular social media app over national security concerns. In his lawsuit, Ryan accuses Trump of violating his Constitutional rights and defaming and disgracing U.S.-based TikTok Inc. employees.
"These accusations (in the executive order) could only occur through the "actions, cooperation, and collaboration of U.S.-based TikTok employees," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuits come after Trump's August 6 order put a 45-day clock on a ban of the popular social media app, owned by China-based ByteDance Ltd. The Administration has pushed for ByteDance to sell TikTok to a U.S.-based company over national security concerns that it is sharing data with the Communist government.
"I am a patriot," said Ryan, who previously worked at Google and is a trained attorney and former law professor. "I am not building dossiers of personal information to blackmail federal officials" for the Chinese government, "that's an unbelievable accusation" in the executive order. He added: "It's not based in any fact, they're saying 'reportedly' (but) I'm in a position where I'd know if we were receiving regular instructions from the Chinese Communist Party as it says."
The ban on "transactions" feasibly includes preventing TikTok Inc. from paying its 1,500 U.S.-based employees their wages and salaries when it takes effect on Sept. 21, the lawsuit states. Many of the 1,500 employees are new, as TikTok expanded from 300 employees a year ago to five times that number today. The order also jeopardizes the immigrant visas of employees in the U.S. on H1B visas that require an employer to sponsor them, the lawsuit alleges.
Because the U.S. Department of Commerce doesn't need to identify what a transaction is until the day the order takes effect, it's unclear if it will exempt wages and salaries for employees.
The lawsuit is believed to be the first time an employee has sued the president over an executive order, according to Alexander Urbelis, partner at Blackstone Law Group LLP, which filed the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.
Urbelis added that "executive orders don't usually reach individual employees (but) he sees this as other employees do, as a direct threat to his salary and the ability to put food on the table during a pandemic."
And while the president has lots of leeway on national security issues, "his power is not boundless" and those limits are crossed when an executive order lacks foundation, Urbelis said.
Trump's executive order notes that any "conspiracy" to violate the order is prohibited, but does not elaborate further.
"What I'm doing right now, in talking to you, is potentially a conspiracy, according to the way that's defined," Ryan said. As for reassuring employees about their future paychecks, it's illegal as things stand for the company to "provide that indication, they'd have to basically say they plan to violate the law. It makes it very difficult for the company to do anything. The company recognizes in many ways the position it's in, they cannot reassure employees in any authentic way."
In a blog post published Monday, TikTok said that it does not take suing the government "lightly, however we feel we have no choice but to take action to protect our rights, and the rights of our community and employees" amid the "speculative" allegations. The statement adds that the company took "extensive" efforts to address the Administration's concerns about national security.
But that has done little to quell Trump's focus on the parent company. He issued a separate executive order on Aug. 14 giving ByteDance 90 days to divest itself of its U.S. TikTok operations. Trump has said he supports the potential acquisition by Oracle, though the company has reportedly been in talks with multiple interested suitors.
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It's one thing to know a patient's lungs are infected with COVID-19. But it's an entirely different thing to see it through a virtual reality walk into those now damaged lungs.
The L.A.-based company Surgical Theater is using its high-tech VR platform, developed 10 years ago to allow surgeons to take an immersive look at patient imaging, to help doctors and patients get an in-depth look at the impact the novel coronavirus has on lungs, said Alon Zuckerman, the company's president and chief operating officer.
It is one of a slew of companies in Los Angeles and beyond that is working to help in the fight against COVID-19, in this case by giving medical staff and patients a closer look at the disease caused by the novel virus and a better view of the damage through virtual reality.
"There is such a stark contrast between the virus-infected abnormal lung and the more healthy, adjacent lung tissue," said Dr. Keith Mortman, chief of thoracic surgery at GW Hospital, on the hospital's podcast. "And it's such a contrast that you do not need an MD after your name to understand these images."
Surgical Theater first teamed up with George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., which was the first in the nation to use VR tech for thoracic cases four years ago to use its 360 degree view for surgical planning and patient education. Now, the hospital is using the same tech to assess COVID-19.
"This is something the general public can take a look at and really start to comprehend how severe the amount of damage this is causing the lung tissue," Mortman said. "The damage we're seeing is not isolated to any one part of the lung. This is severe damage to both lungs diffusely."
Dr. Mortman GWUH - COVID-19 Patient VR Flythrough 2 www.youtube.com
Two ex-Israeli Air Force officers created the VR platform after their experience with flight simulation to help with mission planning.
The FDA-cleared tech has been used in the operating room to help support complex surgeries with its 3D technology, and has been used in 10,000 procedures including in hospitals at Stanford; the University of California, Los Angeles; at Hoag in Orange County; and in New York hospitals, including NYU and Mt. Sinai, among institutes across the nation, Zukerman said.
The company is working with existing hospitals to offer help in VR-alizing the CT scans of patient lungs to help assess the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Mortman, who is using the VR platform, said he's especially concerned with possibly enduring damage to lungs as a result of these infections.
"When that inflammation does not subside with time, then it becomes essentially scarring in the lungs, creating long-term damage," he said. "It could impact somebody's ability to breathe in the long term."
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