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TikTok Sues Montana Over Law Banning the App, Arguing It Violates First Amendment

TikTok says Montana’s newly enacted law that would criminalize usage of the short-form video app is unconstitutional — and the app company has taken legal action to fight the state’s ban.

TikTok filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana seeking to have the law reversed. It was signed into law last week by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who said it would “protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.” TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a China-based internet conglomerate.

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“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” the app maker said in a statement. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.”

Under the Montana law, starting Jan. 1, 2024, TikTok would face fines of up to $10,000 per day per violation if it continues to operate in the state. In addition, the state could impose penalties on Apple and Google if they allow users in Montana to download the app from their respective app stores.

“Montana’s ban abridges freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment, violates the U.S. Constitution in multiple other respects, and is preempted by federal law,” TikTok’s lawsuit says.

TikTok’s lawsuit comes after a group of the app’s creators sued the state on similar grounds.

The Montana law says that “the People’s Republic of China is an adversary of the United States and Montana and has an interest in gathering information about Montanans, Montana companies and the intellectual property of users to engage in corporate and international espionage.” The law also says that China’s government “exercises control and oversight over ByteDance, like other Chinese corporations, and can direct the company to share user information, including real-time physical locations of users.” In addition, the law alleges that “TikTok fails to remove, and may even promote, dangerous content that directs minors to engage in dangerous activities.”

In its lawsuit, TikTok said Montana’s allegations that the Chinese government could access data on TikTok users and that the app “exposes minors to harmful online content” are unsubstantiated. The state “cites nothing to support these allegations, and the state’s bare speculation ignores the reality that plaintiff has not shared, and would not share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and has taken substantial measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok users, including by storing all U.S. user data by default in the United States and by erecting safeguards to protect U.S. user data,” the TikTok lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, there remains a possibility that TikTok will be banned on a federal level.

According to industry analysts, the chances of a U.S. ban on the app increased after CEO Shou Zi Chew’s appearance before a House hearing in March, given deep skepticism expressed by lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — about his answers about China’s influence over TikTok and the communist regime’s ability to track user data via the app, as well as TikTok’s efforts to curb misinformation and harmful content. China’s commerce ministry had said said it is “firmly opposed” to a forced sale of TikTok and that any such transaction would be subject to Chinese government approval.

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