On Monday, the widely used short-form video app, TikTok, responded to Montana’s planned ban on its platform by filing a lawsuit. This move comes as a direct challenge to a recently enacted bill intended to prohibit the use of TikTok within the state starting from January 1, 2024.
The popular app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, asserts that Montana’s ban infringes upon the US Constitution, including First Amendment rights, and contradicts several federal laws. TikTok’s complaint, filed at the Montana District Court, brands concerns about potential data access by the Chinese government as “unfounded.”
Last week, Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed the bill which would penalize TikTok or any app stores distributing the app within the state with a fine of $10,000 per day from the commencement of the new year. This follows criticism towards TikTok due to its links with ByteDance and ensuing worries about potential data access by the Chinese government. Critics suggest that this could potentially serve Chinese intelligence operations, although there is no concrete evidence of such activity.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” stated TikTok spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter. She emphasized the company’s faith in the strong legal precedents supporting their position.
In response to the legal battle initiated by TikTok, Montana’s Attorney General spokesperson, Emily Flower, said: “We expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law.”
Experts in law and technology, however, indicate that enforcing such a ban might pose substantial challenges for Montana or any other state aiming to implement similar prohibitions. They argue that the widespread nature of the internet could make it practically unfeasible to prevent Montana’s residents from accessing TikTok.
The complaint filed by TikTok underscores the platform’s role in connecting “hundreds of thousands” of people within Montana and globally on various topics. It claims that banning a major platform that facilitates First Amendment speech, based on speculative fears about potential foreign access to user data, is blatantly inconsistent with constitutional provisions.
With this legal challenge, TikTok seeks the court to nullify the ban and permanently restrict Montana from enforcing it. This represents the mounting difficulties states might face when trying to limit the platform in the US. A group of TikTok creators had already sued Montana the previous week, citing the ban as a violation of their First Amendment rights.