'I'm a Patriot': US Employee Sues Trump Admin Over TikTok Ban
Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.
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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