Eva Galperin, member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, discusses the actions taken by Donald Trump to ban the Chinese TikTok application in the United States.

The situation is further complicated for TikTok in the United States. After announcing that he intended to ban the popular application on American territory, Donald Trump took action and signed, Thursday, August 6, a presidential decree paving the way for limiting the use of the social network in the country, citing a "national emergency" - TikTok being owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

As the Washington Post notes, such an executive order can serve as the basis for forcing Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their smartphone app stores - App Store or Google Play - in the United States. Donald Trump's "executive order" orders that in 45 days, an American company will no longer have the right to conduct business transactions with TikTok. This in the event that this application is still owned by its parent company ByteDance: Microsoft is indeed still negotiating a takeover of TikTok, which should be completed before September 15, which such a decree does not prevent by fixing a period of 45 days.

Eva Galperin is director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading association for the defense of Internet freedoms. In an article published on August 4, she explained her doubts that Donald Trump could have the legal authority to unilaterally decide to ban TikTok in the United States, and noted that such a decision would raise many questions related to freedom. expression.

She answered questions from the World on the subject on August 5, the day before the signing of the decree by Donald Trump.

Le Monde: Why do you think it is worrying that the President of the United States is threatening to ban TikTok, an app and a social network?

Eva Galperin: Because it's unconstitutional. It can effectively ban the application: just because it's unconstitutional doesn't mean it's impossible. But computer code is protected by free speech under the First Amendment in the United States.

The national security threat excuse does not allow unlimited power. President Trump cannot just decide that something poses a threat to American national security and have it banned from the country. It must overcome TikTok's First Amendment right to distribute its code under free speech, but also Apple and Google's right to distribute TikTok in their app stores.

The president could do it anyway, but then there would be a lawsuit: it would ultimately be determined that this action is unconstitutional and it would be terminated. This scenario is quite close to what happened with the Muslim Ban, the anti-immigration decree issued in January 2017 [of which the first two versions had to be revised].

What would be the consequences if Donald Trump were to ban TikTok?

The most likely would be several lawsuits. But the real question is: how would he ban it? With an executive order, the most pressing problem would be determining the exact nature of the case to bring him to court. Or is he trying to lobby to force the sale of TikTok to Microsoft? This option seems to be the direction in which we are heading rather than an outright ban.

Even though selling TikTok to Microsoft addresses the issue of what data could be provided to the Chinese government, but not the issue of collecting the data in the first place, which is a real cause for concern. That would only move this concern from TikTok to Microsoft and I'm not sure either is better than the other.

The Chinese Internet has banned many Western applications, sites and services. If TikTok was banned, would the American Internet take the same direction?

It would be a good start. I don't think the United States should take any “First Amendment” lessons from the Chinese. It’s not really a bastion of free speech.

The United States is not alone in tackling Chinese apps. India recently banned TikTok, along with 58 other apps for "security" reasons. Do you think that is the wrong answer as well?

This does not mean that the United States should do the same. I don't think our internet should be made Indian style either. I think we give up our leadership if we let India and China decide what the Internet should look like.

 If the United States were to ban TikTok, I think that would only be the start of a more serious balkanization of the Internet. The strength of the Internet today is its degree of decentralization and resistance to censorship. But this is not always the case and it is becoming more and more centralized and less and less resistant to censorship in some cases.

Pushed to its limit, the balkanization of the Internet would mean that each country would have its own Internet with its own applications… They could not all talk to each other, it would depend on the situation between the different countries.

Do you think the internet has taken this direction in recent years?

I think the Chinese example is very tempting for other authoritarian leaders. For example, Vladimir Putin explicitly cited the Chinese Internet as an example of what he would like to see for Russia.

That being said, different countries have discovered how complicated it is to set up. An Internet like the Chinese have requires a lot of physical and legal infrastructure, which does not exist in most countries. The best example that comes to my mind about this is Iran. Iran has been trying to build a "halal internet" for several years now, without much success.

In one article, you find yourself defending TikTok against Donald Trump, so that you can continue to attack this app on other issues. Isn't that strange?

Working in the field of civil liberties is often synonymous with standing up for people attacked for the wrong reasons. This doesn't mean that they are good people or that you don't have your own criticisms of them. I like to think of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as an organization that does the trick. This is very important if you want to be able to criticize a company, a country or a policy. We have to be within our rights and be consistent.