Donald Trump and Microsoft tangle over the future of TikTok. We analyze the legal ramifications of buying or banning TikTok with China.
Many people are surprised by the brutality of Donald Trump, and are offended to see TikTok either banned or bought by Microsoft. The Chinese are shouting robbery, and we can understand them. If the United States of America did the same thing with a company from my country, I would certainly have the same reaction. However, looking at this subject from a purely legal point of view and in the light of recent events, one might be tempted to believe that these fears are justified.
As everyone now knows, TikTok is the "China-free" version of an application for China called Douyin. Douyin is operated from Chinese soil, for the Chinese public, and is therefore fully subject to Chinese data law. This law stipulates that individuals have a right to privacy and a right to their data, except two things.
The first is respect for a number of things under Chinese law. If you insult the Chinese Communist Party, in China, from a Chinese application, you can be sure that your account will be suspended, in addition to the legal risks. All in all, this is a principle found in western jurisdictions, even if it relates more to racist remarks and calls for violence. Rather than the expression of your possible hatred towards the head of your state, for example.
But the second thing that modulates this right is much more problematic because it stipulates that the "competent authorities" all have a right of access to your data. In China, your life is private, but not for the Communist Party. We, therefore, deduce that any data stored in China can end up in any office of the Chinese Communist Party.
So far, this has not been a concern for TikTok, as the data is stored in Singapore and the USA for Western users and Hong Kong users.
But a loophole has opened, following the passage of Hong Kong's National Security Act on 30 June 2020. This law, which, among other things, gives impunity to Chinese intelligence agents on Hong Kong soil. The fear was therefore born that data stored in Hong Kong could end up in the hands of the Chinese communist authorities. We have seen TikTok leave Hong Kong soil, but also recently the South Korean company Naver, which moved its data from Hong Kong to Singapore (https://www.zdnet.com/article/naver-transfers-hong-kong-backup-data-to-singapore/).
By the way, (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tiktok-hong-kong-exclusive/exclusive-tiktok-says-it-will-exit-hong-kong-market-within-days-idUSKBN2480AD), Douyin was already serving Hong Kong, so Hong Kong residents now know which application to turn to.
So we can tell ourselves that everything is going well anyway. TikTok data is no longer in Hong Kong, and is still in Singapore and the USA.
But that's where there's a "but". The data legislation in Singapore, called PDPA, contains a need for clarification, to be modest. This legislation, which is quite similar to the European GDPR, stipulates that data cannot leave Singapore unless the destination country has similar legislation. And guess who does? You guessed it, Hong Kong, with the PDPO. From there to say that the data can transit from Singapore to Hong Kong and then to China... To be honest, it's quite complicated to prove that this "legal bridge" takes place. But there are a few beams of suspicion:
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