FREEDOM OF SPEECH

‘Unprecedented Abuse of Emergency Powers’: Free Speech Advocates Denounce Trump Effort to Ban TikTok, WeChat Apps

The move, says one advocate, is “shortsighted, ridiculous, and likely unconstitutional.”

Lisa Newcomb
Sep 18, 2020 · 4 min read
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United States Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Friday announced a ban on TikTok and WeChat from U.S. app stores. (Photo Illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As courts have held, code is speech, and the Supreme Court has recognized that software is a protected means of expression (addressing age warnings for video games). Just as bookstores have a right to sell books protected by the First Amendment, so too do app stores have a right to distribute protected software. Of course, it would be up to Apple and Google to challenge a purported distribution ban on their app store.

As a practical matter, an app store ban would not be particularly effective, as close to 100 million people in the U.S. already have the app. However, an inability to get updates-as a result of a ban-would create a security nightmare. Major vulnerabilities left unpatched would leave TikTok users susceptible to a variety of attackers, up to and including the Chinese government.

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