The first-in-the-nation ban on the video sharing app in Montana has been challenged in court by five TikTok content creators who claim the rule violates their right to free speech.
The inhabitants of Montana also claimed that the state lacked any control over concerns of national security in the complaint, which was secretly filed in federal court late on Wednesday. The bill was passed on Wednesday by the Republican governor Greg Gianforte, who claimed it would prevent the Chinese government from collecting the private data and personal information of Montanans.
On January 1st, 2024, the prohibition is expected to go into effect.
In order to prevent the hypothetical and unproven possibility that the Chinese government might order TikTok Inc., or its parent, to spy on some Montana users, the law restricts and bans the protected speech of all TikTok users in Montana, according to the complaint.
According to Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, “We anticipated a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law.”
According to TikTok, the law violates people’s First Amendment rights.
But on Thursday, publicist Brooke Oberwetter opted not to speak about the complaint. She also declined to comment on whether the business assisted in organizing the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are residents of Montana who use the video-sharing app to promote their businesses, connect with veterans, share outdoor adventures, or just to have fun. Two of them have a combined following of over 200,000.
Carly Ann Goddard is one content producer who offers videos on ranch life, motherhood, food, and interior design. According to the complaint, she has 97,000 followers on her account and has been able to roughly triple her family’s income. TikTok producers have a variety of options to monetize their work, including by getting paid to promote brands to their audience.
The lawsuit, which was brought only a few hours after Gianforte made the law, claims that the restriction will “immediately and permanently deprive Plaintiffs of their ability to express themselves and communicate with others.”
Because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes, Montana cannot prohibit its citizens from accessing or posting on TikTok, just as it cannot prohibit access to the Wall Street Journal, according to the plaintiffs’ counsel.
The situation might act as a trial run for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers dream of. According to cybersecurity experts, it might be challenging to enforce.
The FBI, several senators, and representatives from other agencies are worried that ByteDance’s video-sharing app may be used to provide the Chinese government access to data on American individuals or to disseminate propaganda in favor of Beijing that could sway public opinion. According to TikTok, none of this has ever occurred.
ByteDance denies the software giant’s accusation made by a former executive that it acted as a “propaganda tool” for the Chinese government.
In 2014 and 2017, China established legislation requiring businesses to assist with the government on state intelligence projects. According to TikTok, it has never been requested to provide up its data and if it were, it wouldn’t.
“TikTok monitors Americans. Period,” Austin Knudsen, the attorney general of Montana, said in front of a legislative committee in March. TikTok is a Chinese Communist Party weapon. It is controlled by a Chinese corporation, and if you reside in China, you must work with the Chinese Communist Party in accordance with Chinese legislation. Period.”
TikTok is forbidden on devices used by the federal government and more than half of American states, including Montana.
The state of Montana’s law would forbid TikTok downloads and fine any “entity”—such as an app store or TikTok—$10,000 per day for each occasion when a person “is offered the ability”to use the social media site or download the app. Users would not be subject to the fines.
The usage of a virtual private network, a service that shields internet users by encrypting their data flow, is said to make it simple for people of Montana to get around the prohibition, according to the law’s detractors. Geofencing technology, according to Montana state officials, is employed with online sports betting apps. These apps are turned off in jurisdictions where online gambling is prohibited.
Since President Donald Trump’s attempt to stop TikTok from operating in the United States through an executive order in 2020, which was overturned by the courts, the concept of a ban on the app has been floating around. The government of President Joe Biden first put those plans on hold, but more recently threatened to outlaw the app if the Chinese owners of the company didn’t sell their shares.
The federal government’s ban on TikTok or its sale to a corporation not based in a nation that is currently listed as a foreign opponent by the federal government—which includes China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba—would render Montana’s statute invalid.