Five TikTok users in Montana are trying to block the state’s new ban on the video-sharing app.
On Wednesday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation banning the App Store and Google Play from offering TikTok in the state effective January 1, 2024.
The user group argues the state wants to “exercise national security powers that Montana does not have and prohibit speech that Montana may not suppress.” The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, says users believe the law violates their First Amendment rights.
“Montana cannot ban its residents from viewing or posting on TikTok any more than the Wall Street Journal could ban because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” the lawsuit reads.
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Austin Knudsen named in the lawsuit, said the state is ready for litigation.
“We anticipated a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law,” she said.
TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has been banned on government devices in several countries – including the UK – over fears it could be forced to share data with the ruling Chinese Communist Party. In the US, calls for a total ban are mounting.
According to the lawsuit, the five plaintiffs, all based in Montana, include a sustainable swimwear designer who uses TikTok to promote her business and connect with customers, and a former US Marine Corps sergeant who uses TikTok to connect with other veterans, and a rancher who uses TikTok to share content about their outdoor adventures.
A college student studying applied human physiology and sharing content about her outdoor adventures and a man who shares humorous videos on TikTok and earns revenue from the content he posts complete the group.
After the governor signed the law into law, Republican Knudsen called TikTok “a Chinese Communist Party spy tool that poses a threat to every resident of Montana.”
TikTok said the Montana ban violates “the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and said it will “continue to work to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
Gianforte, also a Republican, said the bill will “bolster our shared priority of protecting Montans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”
TikTok has repeatedly denied ever sharing data with the Chinese government, saying the company would not do so if asked.
Montana, which has a population of just over a million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and an additional $10,000 a day in fines if it violates the ban.
An attempt by former President Donald Trump to ban new downloads from TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts but had no effect.
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