TikTok sues Montana to overturn first statewide ban on video-sharing app

Social media company TikTok filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn Montana’s first-in-the-nation ban on the video sharing app, arguing the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights and is based on “unfounded speculation” that the Chinese government could access users’ data.

The lawsuit by TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, follows one filed last week by five content creators who made the same arguments, including that the state of Montana has no authority to take action on matters of national security. Both lawsuits were filed in federal court in Missoula. 

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill Wednesday and the lawsuit by the content creators was filed hours later. The law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, but cybersecurity experts say it could be difficult to enforce.

In its complaint, TikTok states that it has not shared and would not share U.S. user data with the Chinese government and has taken measures to protect the privacy and security of its users, including storing all U.S. user data in the United States.

Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signs a law banning TikTok in the state on Wednesday, May 17, in Helena, Mont. The law made Montana the first state in the U.S. to completely ban the app. (Garrett Turner/Montana Governor’s Office/The Associated Press)

AG’s office prepared to defend new law

Some lawmakers, the FBI and officials at other agencies are concerned that the video-sharing app could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on U.S. citizens or push pro-Beijing misinformation that could influence the public.

Chinese law compels Chinese companies to share data with the government for whatever purposes it deems to involve national security. TikTok says this has never happened.

“The Chinese Communist Party is using TikTok as a tool to spy on Americans by collecting personal information, keystrokes, and even the locations of its users — and by extension, people without TikTok who affiliate with users may have information about themselves shared without even knowing it,” Emily Flower, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice, said in a statement.

“We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend the law that helps protect Montanans’ privacy and security,” she wrote.

LISTEN | How to protect your data when using TikTok: 

Up To Speed6:40What should we be worried about when it comes to TikTok and data security?

Brandon University professor Gautam Srivastava joined CBC’s Laurie Hoogstraten to explain how to protect your data when using TikTok and other social media platforms.

The federal government and about half the U.S. states, including Montana, have banned TikTok from government-owned devices.

Montana’s new law prohibits downloads of TikTok in the state. It would fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 US per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

Chatter about a TikTok ban has been around since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump attempted to bar the company from operating in the U.S. through an executive order that was halted in federal courts. Congress has also considered banning the app over security concerns.

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