By Ezeja Victor
TikTok on Monday filed a suit against Montana over a bill that would ban the popular short-form video app in the state starting early next year.
TikTok alleges that the ban violates the US Constitution, including the First Amendment, as well as other federal laws, according to a complaint filed in Montana District Court. The company also claims concerns that the Chinese government could access the data of US TikTok users — which are a key motivation behind the ban — are “unfounded.”
The bill was signed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte last week, and would impose a fine of $10,000 per day on TikTok or app stores for making the app available to personal devices in the state starting on January 1, 2024.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.”
Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana’s Attorney General, told CNN: “We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend the law that helps protect Montanans’ privacy and security.”
China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday slammed Montana’s ban as an “abuse of state power.”
“I want to stress that the US side has not provided any evidence to prove that TikTok poses a threat to the national security of the US,” ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular briefing.
The Montana law stems from growing criticism of TikTok over its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance. Many US officials have expressed fears that the Chinese government could potentially access US data via TikTok for spying purposes, though there is no evidence that the Chinese government has ever done so. Some federal lawmakers have also called for a ban.
Montana’s ban went a step beyond other states that have restricted TikTok from government devices. But legal and technology experts say there are challenges for Montana, or any state, to enforce such a ban. Even if the law is allowed to stand, the practicalities of the internet may make it impossible to keep TikTok out of the hands of users.
TikTok said in the complaint that the app is used by “hundreds of thousands” of people in Montana to “communicate with each other and others around the world on an endless variety of topics, from business to politics to the arts.”
“This unprecedented and extreme step of banning a major platform for First Amendment speech, based on unfounded speculation about potential foreign government access to user data and the content of the speech, is flatly inconsistent with the constitution,” TikTok said in the complaint.
TikTok is seeking for the court to invalidate and permanently enjoin Montana from enforcing the ban.
The legal challenge by TikTok is an indicator of the hurdles that Montana and other lawmakers could face in attempting to restrict the platform in the United States. A group of TikTok creators also sued Montana last week over the state’s ban, saying it violates their First Amendment rights.