TikTok sues Montana over state ban
TikTok filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to prevent Montana from banning the popular video app, stepping up efforts to block a ban that would be the first of its kind in the state.
exist litigation The company filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, arguing that Montana’s legislation violates parts of the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution that limit state power. The ban “unconstitutionally shuts down the speaking forums for all speakers on the app,” the company said in the lawsuit.
TikTok’s lawsuit comes days after Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the ban — which would have fined the app if it operated in the state, or if they allowed it to be downloaded —became law.
The state law has become a litmus test for whether TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, can be banned on national security grounds. The ban, which will go into effect Jan. 1, has already raised questions about how it will be enforced within Montana.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement . “We believe our legal challenge will prevail, based on extremely strong precedent and facts.”
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said: “We anticipate legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend laws designed to protect the privacy and security of Montanans.”
The lawsuit adds to those legal challenges. A group of TikTok users filed a separate lawsuit Wednesday against the Montana bill, the day Gianforte signed it into law, saying it violated their First Amendment rights and overstepped the state’s legal authority. The law also sparked an outcry from civil liberties and digital rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
TikTok, which has more than 150 million U.S. users, has struggled under two presidential administrations while trying to quell concerns about its Chinese ownership. The company has been waiting for the Biden administration to approve its plans to operate in the United States, but has already faced bans on government equipment in more than two states, as well as universities and the military.
The Montana ban was drafted by Mr. Knutson, a Republican, and introduced this year by Republican state senators. State lawmakers said the ban would prevent the Chinese government from accessing the personal information of Montanans. The debate over the ban came shortly after a Chinese spy balloon floated over the state and drew national attention.
The new law would ban TikTok from operating the app in the state. App store operators such as Apple and Google will also be banned from offering downloads in the state. TikTok, Apple and Google could face fines of up to $10,000 per day if they do not comply.
TikTok said in the lawsuit that Montana does not have the legal authority to impose a ban because it would regulate trade between states, which is the federal government’s purview. The suit says the ban also violates constitutional legislation prohibiting punishment against individuals or specific groups.
“The TikTok ban specifically penalizes the TikTok app, even though the data the app purportedly collects is no different in kind from data collected from any number of other sources and is widely available in the data brokers market, ’ the company said in the complaint.
Critics of the ban say it will be difficult to enforce, even if the courts don’t block it. If TikTok users in Montana use VPN software to disguise their location, they can still use the app, while Montanans living in border towns could access the internet through cell towers in other states. TechNet, a lobbying group representing Apple and Google, said it was impossible for an app store to limit downloads in a single state.
Mr. Knudsen’s office said last week that TikTok could enforce the ban using techniques already used by the online gambling industry to block access to the app from states where it is illegal.
Litigation over the ban could take months to resolve. Since the ban doesn’t take effect until next year, there’s no immediate need for the court to block it.
TikTok and its supporters successfully used the courts to block a previous ban in the United States. TikTok sued the federal government in 2020 after President Donald J. Trump used his emergency economic powers to issue an executive order preventing the app from operating in the United States. One judge sided with the company, and another blocked the ban after a challenge from a group of creators.
TikTok has been banned in 2020 in some countries, including India. The UK, Canada and France recently banned the app on official government devices.