TikTok sued on Monday to stop Montana from banning the popular video app, stepping up its efforts to stop a ban that would be the first of its kind in the country.
In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the District of Montana, the company said Montana’s legislation violated the First Amendment and parts of the US Constitution that limit the state’s powers. The ban was “unconstitutionally closing the speech forum to all speakers on the app,” the company said in the lawsuit.
TikTok sued days after Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed the ban — which would fine the app if it operated in the state or app stores if they allowed it to be downloaded — into law.
The state law has become a test case for whether it is possible to ban the use of TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, on national security grounds. The ban, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, has already raised questions about how it would be enforced within Montana’s borders.
“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional ban on TikTok to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in a statement. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an extremely strong set of precedent and facts.”
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said, “We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to uphold the law that helps protect the privacy and safety of Montana residents.”
The lawsuit adds to these legal challenges. A group of TikTok users filed a separate lawsuit challenging the Montana bill on Wednesday, the day Gianforte signed it, saying it violated First Amendment rights and overstepped the state’s legal authority. The law also sparked protests from civil liberties and digital rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the First Amendment Knight Institute at Columbia University.
TikTok, which has more than 150 million US users, has been in limbo under two presidential administrations as it worked to quell concerns about its Chinese ownership. The company, which is awaiting approval from the Biden government for its action plan in the United States, has already faced bans from government devices in more than two dozen states, as well as by universities and the military.
Montana’s ban was drafted by Knudsen, a Republican, and introduced by a Republican state senator earlier this year. State lawmakers said the ban would prevent the Chinese government from gaining access to the personal information of Montana residents. Debate over the ban began shortly after a Chinese spy balloon flew over the state, drawing national attention.
The new law will bar TikTok from operating the app in the state. App store operators such as Apple and Google will also be prohibited from making it available for download in the state. TikTok, Apple and Google could face daily fines of $10,000 if they don’t comply.
In its filing, TikTok said Montana did not have the legal authority to impose a ban because it would regulate interstate commerce, which is the purview of the federal government. The ban also violates a constitutional ban on legislation that seeks to punish an individual or specific groups, the lawsuit said.
“The TikTok ban points the TikTok app to this punishment, despite the fact that the data purportedly collected by the app is no different in kind from data collected from various other sources and which is widely available on the data broker market,” the company said. stated in his complaint.
Critics of the ban believe it will be difficult to enforce even if the courts do not block it. TikTok users in Montana can still use the app if they disguise their location using virtual private network software, while Montana residents living in border towns can gain Internet access through cell towers in other states. TechNet, a lobby group representing Apple and Google, said it was impossible for app stores to restrict downloads in a single state.
Knudsen’s office said last week that TikTok could enforce the ban with technology the online gambling industry already uses to block access to an app from a state where it’s illegal.
Litigation over the ban can take months to resolve. As the ban would not take effect until next year, there is no immediate need for the courts to block its entry into force.
TikTok and its supporters were able to use the courts to overturn a previous US ban. In 2020, TikTok sued the federal government when President Donald J. Trump used his emergency economic powers to issue an executive order to stop the app from operating in the United States. One judge sided with the company, and another blocked the ban after a challenge from a group of creators.
TikTok has been banned in some countries including India in 2020. Britain, Canada and France have recently banned the app on official government devices.