TikTok sues US state of Montana over law banning its use

The lawsuit argues that the state’s ban singles out the short-form video app and undermines free speech.

Montana Governor Greg Ganforte signing the TikTok ban in this photo provided by the Montana Governor's Office.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signs a bill banning the video app TikTok from the state on May 17 [Garrett Turner/Montana Governor's Office via AP]

The video app TikTok has launched a lawsuit against the government of Montana in the northwestern United States after the state passed a law on Wednesday effectively banning the app within its borders.

In a complaint filed with the US District Court in Montana on Monday, TikTok promised to fight what it characterised as an illegal effort to restrict its use.

“We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” the social media company said in the court filing.

The complaint claims that the ban “abridges freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment”, as well as other constitutional protections.

While numerous US states and federal agencies have limited or banned access to TikTok on government devices — based on claims that data from the platform could be used by the Chinese government for surveillance — the Montana law goes further and bans the app from the state entirely.

Slated to take effect on January 1, the ban would bar TikTok from operating within Montana and prohibit app stores from offering TikTok for download, with violators facing fines.

TikTok has countered that such privacy concerns are overblown and that it has never been asked to hand over user data to the Chinese government. Others have pointed out that the US itself enlists tech companies with global reach to conduct surveillance.

Rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have also questioned the ban’s constitutionality and pressed for evidence that the app is a national security threat.

“With this ban, Governor [Greg] Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” Keegan Medrano, policy director of the ACLU’s Montana branch, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Five TikTok users in the state also filed a lawsuit last week in an effort to have the law blocked before it takes effect.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” their complaint stated.

According to the Associated Press, Emily Flower, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice, said the state had expected legal challenges and was “fully prepared to defend the law”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies