TikTok Inc. filed a lawsuit on Monday challenging Montana's recent state-wide ban of the app. It’s the first US state to have banned the Chinese-owned video platform, which currently has over 1.4 billion monthly active users worldwide.
TikTok stated that the ban violates the constitutional First Amendment right to free speech. The company’s argument is that the ban shuts down the “forum for speech” for app users.
The lawsuit goes on to argue that Montana is getting too involved with matters of user data and national security, which is the federal government's responsibility.
TikTok Fines Are Likely To Be Over $10,000
Due to take effect in January 2024, the ban will not stop people who have already downloaded TikTok from using the app. It will however, make it illegal for app stores to offer it.
Fines of $10,000 per violation – with additional fines of $10,000 per day – could be imposed by the state. These fees will be incurred by any entity – such as the App Store and Google Play, or TikTok itself – each time someone is “offered the ability” to access the app. However, no penalties will be passed down to TikTok users.
For TikTok, the threat of a total US ban has been looming for some time. This move from Montana is the latest advance in that becoming a reality. Hence why the app is keen to fight back with this current legal challenge.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana. We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.” – TikTok’s statement on the ban
US Scrutiny Towards TikTok Grows
This move is also the most recent step in TikTok’s growing scrutiny within the US. Concerns that the app could be a national security risk, with data being passed to the Chinese government, resulted in a congressional hearing with the app’s CEO Shou Zi Chew earlier this year.
As well as this, the US, Canada and EU Commissions recently ruled to remove the app from all government-owned devices.
The platform – owned by the Chinese company ByteDance – has repeatedly denied it’s controlled by the Chinese government and called out the “unfounded speculation” that they could access TikTok data.
Montana Set To Defend The Ban And Protect Against “Foreign Adversaries”
Montana’s attorney general Austin Knudsen is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. His spokesperson confirmed that they saw the TikTok lawsuits coming and will defend the ban in court.
“We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend the law that helps protect Montanans’ privacy and security.” – Emily Flower, spokesperson for Montana’s attorney general
With a ban on all social media apps that have links to “foreign adversaries”, this move from Montana isn’t anything new. Governor Greg Gianforte already announced the ban on Chinese-owned WeChat and Russian-owned Telegram from June 1.
Gianforte argued that the law will prevent personal and private data from being “harvested by the Chinese Communist party.”
TikTok Isn't Alone in Taking Legal Action
It seems that the app will not be going down in Montana without a fight though, as TikTok isn’t the only one suing to block the law.
A group of TikTok creators – including an exercise influencer and former marine sergeant – are also suing the state, similarly arguing that it violates their first amendment rights. They say the state is looking to “exercise powers over national security that Montana does not have and to ban speech Montana may not suppress.”.
Whatever the outcome of the TikTok vs Montana lawsuit, it’s clear that it will set a precedent for any future state-wide bans.