TikTok Sues Montana to Block First Statewide Ban of App

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(Bloomberg) -- TikTok Inc. sued Montana over the first statewide ban of the popular app, saying the state has trampled free-speech rights based on a misguided view that Chinese ownership of the platform poses a national security threat to the US.

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The state’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, last week signed a measure that will prohibit the app’s download by the general public beginning next year.

“The state has enacted these extraordinary and unprecedented measures based on nothing more than unfounded speculation,” according to the complaint.

The company’s legal challenge to the ban Monday in federal court in Missoula follows a suit filed last week by a group of TikTok content creators who said the law violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and will disrupt their livelihoods.

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A spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on TikTok’s suit.

“TikTok is a Chinese Communist Party spying tool that poses a threat to every Montanan,” Knudsen, a Republican, said in a statement issued last week. “I hope other states recognize the dangers of TikTok and follow suit.”

The new Montana law will impose the broadest and strictest limitations on use of the social media platform yet, spurred by widespread governmental concerns about the Chinese government’s access to American users’ personal data.

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

While Montana is the first state to prohibit the general public from using the app, targeted bans focusing on government devices and networks cascaded across the country late last year. The US government and 38 states have issued such bans and President Joe Biden’s administration is in negotiations with TikTok to resolve national security concerns. The European Union, UK, Canada, and a handful of other countries have more recently imposed similar restrictions.

The company said it’s a “reality of modern communication” that some users aim to share inappropriate and harmful content, but TikTok said it has touted features, policies and procedures to protect minors.

The alleged harms social media platforms such as TikTok pose to young users, including addiction, are targeted in a separate batch of scores of lawsuits pending in federal court in Oakland, California.

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Montana “cites nothing” to support its claims that the People’s Republic of China could access data about TikTok users, according to Monday’s complaint. The speculation “ignores the reality that plaintiff has not shared, and would not share, U.S. user data” and has taken “substantial measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok users,” TikTok argued.

The case is TikTok Inc. v. Knudsen, 23-cv-00061, US District Court, District of Montana (Missoula).

--With assistance from Alex Barinka.

(Updates with Montana attorney general’s previous statement.)

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