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TikTok fights Montana ban with First Amendment lawsuit

The California-based company that operates TikTok in the U.S. called Montana's claim that the Chinese government can access U.S. users' data entirely false.

(CN) — TikTok filed a First Amendment lawsuit Monday to stop Montana from implementing its wholesale ban of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app that is set to go into effect Jan. 1.

"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 a complaint filed Monday in federal court in Missoula, Montana.

The company, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., says Montana's ban constitutes a prior restraint on its and its users’ speech, “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights,” and asked for an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing it.

Last week, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a comprehensive ban of TikTok, making the Treasure State the first to outlaw the popular social media app, purportedly "to protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party."

Noting the anti-Chinese animus that at least some Montana lawmakers expressed in promoting the ban, TikTok says the state's claim that the app shares U.S. users' data with the Chinese government is entirely false.

TikTok's Culver City, California-based U.S. subsidiary, which operates the app in the U.S., collects only a limited amount of data from its users, according to the lawsuit. The company says the data it collects doesn't leave the U.S. but is stored by Oracle Corp.'s cloud-based services, precisely because of U.S. government security concerns.

TikTok says it has never shared or received a request to share U.S. user data with the Chinese government, nor would it honor such a request if one is ever made.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, the named defendant in TikTok's lawsuit, last week called the app "a Chinese Communist Party spying tool that poses a threat to every Montanan." Knudsen's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.

Aside from the free speech claim, TikTok says Montana's ban is preempted by federal law and ignores the yearslong work between the company and the U.S. government to safeguard users' data.

"By enacting a state law intended to address the national security concerns purportedly posed by TikTok, Montana has intruded upon not only the federal government’s constitutionally-assigned primacy in matters of national security and foreign affairs, but also the comprehensive and carefully crafted regime that Congress set up to regulate in this area," the company says in the complaint.

The Montana ban calls for a $10,000 fine for each violation of the prohibition against using and downloading TikTok in the state, defined as any time “a user accesses TikTok, is offered the ability to access TikTok, or is offered the ability to download TikTok.” The penalties will be enforced against the company and mobile app stores, i.e. Apple and Google, but not against individual TikTok users.

TikTok wants the court to declare Montana's ban preempted by federal law and unconstitutional. It asks the court to block the law and bar Montana from enforcing it.

Rob Cameron and Nathan Bilyeu of the Helena, Montana, firm Jackson, Murdo & Grant filed the suit for TikTok.

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Business, Civil Rights, Government, Media, Technology

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