TikTok, the popular universal short-form videophone app, is suing the state of Montana, alleging it has violated the First Amendment by restricting free speech.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed on Wednesday Senate Bill 419 was signed into law, effectively banning the use of the app on all devices within state lines effective January 1, 2024. The legislation garnered bipartisan support and passed the state House 54-43 on April 14 and in the state Senate 30-20 on March 2.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s use of TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well documented,” Gianforte said at the bill signing. “Today, Montana is taking the most decisive action of any state to protect the private data and sensitive personal information of Montanans from being collected by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The risks associated with TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, have been more publicly proclaimed due to perceived threats from various spy balloons and “secret police stations” within the United States and around the world.
Its risks have been assessed by the US Senate, pushed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley as part of the broader RESTRICT Act which has lost some support on both sides of the aisle due to a perceived retaliatory version of the stance. of the US on censorship, as stated by fellow Republican Rand Paul.
This lawsuit is an effort to stop Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen from enforcing the ban.
“Montana does not have the authority to enact laws that advance what it believes should be the foreign policy of the United States or its national security interests, nor can Montana prohibit an entire forum of communication based on its perception that any speech shared through that forum, while protected by the First Amendment, is dangerous,” read the 62-page lawsuit filed Monday, which also alleges the federal law preempts the ban and also violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. from United States.
The lawsuit refers to the enactment of “extraordinary and unprecedented measures based on nothing more than unsubstantiated speculation,” adding that the state of Montana in its legislation “does not cite anything” to support the allegations, such as a ban on exposing minors to harmful content online, or that the PRC can access user data.
TikTok’s lawyers also say the platform has fostered a safe environment for all users, including teens.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” said Brooke Oberwetter, TikTok spokesperson. news week via email. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an extremely strong set of precedents and facts.”
Oberwetter cited various opposition to the Montana ban, including from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which on Wednesday wrote: “With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment. We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”
other demand TikTok creators and content viewers also filed a lawsuit against Montana for alleged “attempts to exercise powers over national security that Montana does not have and to ban speech that Montana cannot suppress.”
Under the bill signed into law by Gianforte, the app can still be downloaded until the ban takes effect next year. But after January 1, app stores can’t offer TikTok for download in Montana. It will institute fines of up to $10,000 for each violation, adding another $10,000 for each day the violation continues.
Users will not be fined or face penalties.
“Defending the freedom and privacy of Montanans from foreign adversaries like China is one of Senator’s goals. [Jon] Tester’s top priorities, and has supported legislation to ban TikTok on government devices,” a Tester spokesperson said. news week via email. “He believes we should avoid spying on Montanans, but he believes those steps need to be balanced with respecting Montanans’ First Amendment rights.”
TikTok’s lawyers delegated the comment to Oberwetter.
news week has reached out to Gianforte’s attorneys and the Montana bill’s sponsor, Shelley Vance, by email for comment.