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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

TikTok sues Montana, calling state ban unconstitutional

By David McCabe and Sapna Maheshwari New York Times

TikTok on Monday sued to block Montana from banning the popular video app, escalating its efforts to stop a prohibition that would be the first of its kind in the nation.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the company said Montana’s legislation violated the First Amendment and parts of the U.S. Constitution that limit state powers. The ban was “unconstitutionally shutting down the forum for speech for all speakers on the app,” the company said in the lawsuit.

TikTok sued days after Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the ban – which would fine the video 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 prohibit the use of TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, over national security concerns. The ban, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, has already raised questions about how it would be enforced within Montana’s borders.

“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said in a statement. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.”

The lawsuit adds to the ban’s legal challenges. A group of TikTok users filed a separate suit challenging Montana’s bill on Wednesday, the day Gianforte signed it, saying it violated their First Amendment rights and outstripped the state’s legal authority. The law has also sparked an outcry from civil liberty and digital rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

A spokesperson for Montana’s attorney general didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

TikTok, which has more than 150 million U.S. users, has been in limbo under two presidential administrations while working to quell concerns about its Chinese ownership. The company, which has been waiting for the Biden administration to approve its plan for operating in the United States, has already faced bans on government devices in more than two dozen states, as well as by universities and the military.

The Montana ban was drafted by the state’s attorney general, Austin Knudsen, a Republican, and introduced by a Republican state senator this year. Lawmakers in the state said the ban would prevent the Chinese government from gaining access to the personal information of Montanans. The debate over the ban began not long after a Chinese spy balloon floated over the state, drawing national attention.

The new law will bar TikTok from operating the app in the state. App store operators, like Apple and Google, will also be forbidden to make it available for download in the state. TikTok, Apple and Google could face daily fines of $10,000 if they fail to comply.

In 2020, TikTok sued the federal government when President Donald Trump used his emergency economic powers to issue an executive order to block the app from operating in the United States. A judge sided with the company – and another judge blocked the ban after a challenge from a group of creators – and the app dodged the ban.

TikTok has been banned in some countries, including India in 2020. Britain, Canada and France recently banned the app on official government devices.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.