Announcer: This is The Takeaway with Tanzina Vega.
Tanzina Vega: TikTok could soon have a US media partner. ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, has chosen the American tech company, Oracle, for the role. The move comes after the Trump administration signed two executive orders aimed at forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok's US business over what the President says are national security concerns, but the deal isn't done yet. It still needs to be reviewed by the US government. Here's what President Trump had to say yesterday.
President Trump (excerpt): No, I'm not prepared to sign off on anything. I have to see the deal. We need security, especially after what we've seen with respect to China and what's going on. We want security. So I'll let you know.
Tanzina: Cristiano Lima is a technology reporter at Politico, and he talked to me earlier this week about what we need to know about the deal and its implications for user privacy, but first, I asked him to explain exactly what Oracle does.
Cristiano Lima: They're one of the biggest tech companies out there, but certainly under the radar and particularly in Washington. They do a lot of cloud computing services. They provide supply chain tools, data management, certainly not the things that most people associate with tech when they think of Facebook, the social media companies, but definitely a major power player in the industry that provides a lot of indispensable services for lots of businesses.
Tanzina: They're not really a front-facing technology company that we think about when we think about what tech companies we know off the top of our heads. Why would Oracle be interested in buying or partnering with TikTok?
Cristiano: That's what makes this such an interesting move for them. A lot of the tech companies that we've seen come under intense scrutiny in Washington have been the public-facing ones, the Facebook's, the Google's, the Twitter's of the world, and this would be Oracle really stepping into potentially a lot of that scrutiny by taking a potential stake, a partnership role in TikTok, which has faced its own political headwinds in Washington, not only on these national security issues that are getting so much attention now but also along the lines of privacy and content moderation issues. It is a company that has seen its user base really expand this year in 2020 with a lot of people staying at home on their apps rolling through the popular videos. It certainly was a very appetizing company for a lot of its suitors that were pursuing the company, and it's a chance for Oracle to really step up its profile.
Tanzina: Can you tell us a little bit about what they actually are going to do? What is the deal?
Cristiano: The specifics of it have not been announced. We're still waiting on the review process as well that the federal government is undergoing. What we do know, TikTok and Oracle confirmed this week that they've agreed on a deal that would make Oracle a technology partner to TikTok in the US. Now, this is in response to the Trump administration's actions in August. They had signed two executive orders, basically trying to pressure TikTok's parent company, which is ByteDance, Chinese-owned tech giant, to sell off the company because of fears around that Chinese government officials could harvest American user data off the app. The deal now, while the specifics are unclear, there have been several news reports suggesting that ByteDance is likely to retain a majority stake in TikTok, and Oracle would have a minority stake in the company. That still raises a lot of questions about how exactly it's going to address these security issues that we've heard from the Trump administration and officials on both sides of the political aisle.
Tanzina: You just mentioned that President Trump has been going after TikTok for a couple of months now. Where does this stand with the Trump administration? Are they going to examine this deal a little more quickly or a little further, or where does Trump stand right now with this?
Cristiano: It's currently under review to look at these national security implications that we've talked about. The President, at least publicly, he has not said whether he believes the deal will be approved, but he just yesterday praised the company Oracle, which he has close ties with. Several of its executives have openly embraced the President, and he has done the same in return. He said yesterday that he expects a decision to come out very soon. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week had said that the administration is reviewing it this week. There is somewhat of a deadline this Sunday, one of the executive orders, the deadlines for TikTok to cease its operations in the US. It hits this weekend. It's possible that they will try to complete it before then, but it's also possible that we'll see this complicated review process over this deal that the details of which are still very murky might drag on beyond that.
Tanzina: There has been-- Part of the reason people say that President Trump has been going after TikTok is because it's a Chinese-owned company at least. What role have trade tensions between the US and China played in this deal?
Cristiano: This is certainly the latest chapter, the latest saga in the ongoing trade dispute. Something that really bogged down the talks over the potential sale or partnership of TikTok with an American company was after Trump had signed his executive orders, trying to get this very profitable and popular Chinese tech company into the hands of an American company. China pushed back, and they are seeking to make it so that certain parts of the deal would require their government approval as well. Clearly, this is also a part of the global tit-for-tat that we've seen between these two major power centers. It also fits into some broader debates about the technology space because American technology industry has been very profitable, obviously, very successful, and TikTok is seen as one of the biggest rivals to Facebook and Google and YouTube. This fits into that because it would be giving an American company a stake in one of China's darlings in the tech space.
Tanzina: There, of course, are privacy concerns with TikTok at least according to the President. Are those concerns real? Would the deal, I guess, with Oracle or with the partnership with Oracle relax some of those concerns right now?
Cristiano: Yes. That's the big question, and one of the biggest things to look for on this is how the data storage and how TikTok will be able to wall off its data from that of its parent company in this deal, potentially. That's something that a lot of lawmakers on Capitol have said needs to be a big piece of this deal because the concern is as long as ByteDance has some control over TikTok, there's the possibility that Chinese government officials might seek to use that to gain access to some of this valuable American consumer data. Certainly, officials in the administration lawmakers will be looking to see how is this deal going to impact that, how will it wall off ByteDance, and potentially, Chinese government officials from getting access to that information. That'll be a key piece of this deal that's still being ironed out.
Tanzina: Cristiano, where do things go from here? TikTok is not in danger of being shut down right now anymore, is it?
Cristiano: The President had set two different executive orders that had deadlines that sought to push the company basically out of business in the country. Clearly, this deal is seeking to appease that to avoid that scenario while not perhaps taking as a drastic step as having ByteDance sell off TikTok entirely, but it's unclear whether that's really going to satisfy the Trump administration. We've already seen some Republican senators say that the proposed deal, as it's been reported, does not go far enough, that there needs to be more. One particular Trump ally has called for the administration already to reject this deal and say that ByteDance needs to pursue fully selling off TikTok in the US to an American company. We'll have to see if Trump and the administration thinks that it goes far enough or not.
Tanzina: We'll be watching, both literally watching TikTok and watching this story as well. Cristiano Lima is a technology reporter at Politico. Cristiano, thanks for being with me.
Cristiano: Thank you.
Tanzina Vega: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts across the country have been closed to in-person hearings and jury trials forcing them to do these digitally or just postpone them. That's caused a massive backlog in cases throughout the United States, with cities like New York and San Diego, sitting on thousands of unheard criminal cases. Immigration hearings, child support orders, custody battles, marriages, and even arraignments for lesser crimes have also been delayed or postponed, leaving many Americans wondering when their legal affairs will finally get sorted.
Today, we're going to begin a series of conversations about how COVID-19 has affected our national courts, and we're calling it Justice Delayed. My first guest in this series is Lyle Moran, a legal affairs writer for the American Bar Association Journal.
Lyle, welcome to the show.
Lyle Moran: Hi, thanks for having me.
Tanzina: How bad are the backlogs?
Lyle: Well, out here in San Diego, for example, you have a backlog of roughly 20,000 criminal cases. That's about 2,700 that have been set for trial, another roughly 8,000 to 10,000 in the pre-trial phase. Then you have 7,000 defendants awaiting arraignment. Here in San Diego, next month, they're going to start up in-person jury trials, again, starting with just a couple at a time. At that pace, this is going to take years for this backlog to be worked through. You have other courts facing similar backlogs. It's just going to be a while before these cases can get heard.
Tanzina: For those who aren't familiar, I've covered arraignment courts here in New York City, they pretty much move very quickly. You see multiple folks coming in and out of arraignment courts. Often, sometimes, within a matter of minutes, the judge has already made a decision. With this backlog, Lyle, what's happening to the folks who are waiting?
Lyle: There's obviously folks in a few different types of situation. For those charged with very serious crimes, especially violent crimes, some of them may be awaiting these hearings, arraignments, pre-trial in the like, still in custody, and especially at a time with COVID going on, there's many that have sought relief from custody, given the prisons, the jails, they're obviously areas where a spread has happened, and folks are in tight quarters. That's a concern to those being charged, as well as defense lawyers. You have that.
You also just have the issue where it took courts a while to get up to speed with being able to hold video-conferenced hearings. Of course, you have some of those taking place. I just recently spoke with a judge in Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish, who has set up a system where he's able to accept guilty pleas via video conference, or at least those defendants who want to take that route, they're able to have their pleas accepted and get some sort of resolution rather than waiting and having this unknown play out for a while.
Tanzina: Are these backlogs happening across the country in different places, Lyle?
Lyle: They are. It very much depends on how quickly a court was able to switch to using some of this technology to be able to start holding hearings again. Criminal cases have obviously been prioritized over civil. Civil matters, which are already in many states, took a very long time, years often to get to trial, those have been put off even further just because you have many more constitutional rights in play in the criminal cases.
Out here in San Diego, there was actually a group of local civil lawyers that came together and got some retired judges on board to set up a system where those folks who wanted to have a retired judge or a qualified local attorney hear their civil matters, could go and do so for free. The idea was a program like this would help reduce the backlog when the courts already have civil matters pretty much in abeyance for a while.
Tanzina: Lyle, what about some of the other things we mentioned at the top, because if you're saying civil cases are really being put on hold here, what about people who are trying to get married, or people who are fighting for custody, or people who are trying to get a divorce?
Lyle: It's a great question. Clearly, during COVID, there have been a number of different types of child custody issues that have arisen. You have parents who have very different views about how the COVID-19 should be managed, how seriously to take the health issues in play. There have been concerns if one parent has to transport a child to another parent who's living in an area where COVID may be spreading more rapidly, do they want to do that? I've been told that family courts, in general, are seeing that pandemic itself is not reason enough alone to halt sharing custody or providing visitation to the other parent.
The Texas Supreme Court even put out an order pretty early on saying that child possession schedules, as they call them, were not to be impacted by COVID-19, and I saw that in Wisconsin, the stay-at-home orders, they are made clear that travel to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement, that type of travel was exempted. In large part, even though parents may have a different view about what type of precautions to take during this time, child custody sharing is supposed to continue.
Tanzina: Well, and if they're trying to go to court to amend any of that, that's what could take a while, right?
Lyle: Exactly. The parties would need to agree to arrangements on their own and then have the court sign off, but to have the court try and decide on its own, that could take a very long time.
Tanzina: Lyle, we got about a minute left, but you mentioned that how long the backlog is in San Diego. Are some cases just going to take years and years? Are people potentially going to give up?
Lyle: I think you may actually see a lot more folks try and reach settlements because they're just not getting the resolution that they want. They're certainly already in the criminal justice system. You have a lot of plea deals taking place, and we'll probably see even more of those.
Tanzina: Lyle Moran is the legal affairs writer from the American Bar Association Journal. Don't forget, we'll be covering more of this on our series, Justice Delayed.
Lyle, thanks for joining me.
Lyle: Thanks so much.
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