Lawmakers in Montana passed a statute which prohibits app stores from making TikTok available for download in the state, a move which occurs as federal authorities contend that the platform, which is owned by Chinese technology firm ByteDance, may grant members of the Chinese Communist Party access to users’ data in the United States.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court on Wednesday by the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, said that the state is improperly discriminating against some forms of speech shared through the platform and lacks the ability to enforce laws related to national security.
“Montana has no authority to enact laws advancing what it believes should be the United States’ foreign policy or its national security interests, nor may Montana ban an entire forum for communication based on its perceptions that some speech shared through that forum, though protected by the First Amendment, is dangerous,” the lawsuit said. “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.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Samantha Alario, who owns a small business that sells swimwear; Heather DiRocco, a former Marine who discusses mental health with fellow veterans; Carly Ann Goddard, who creates content related to life on her ranch; Alice Held, a student who shares her outdoor adventures related to mountain climbing and biking; and Dale Stout, who makes humorous videos. Each of the individuals earn revenue with their TikTok accounts and contend that the prohibition deprives them of their property rights.
Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, on the other hand, said that the law was intended to protect “private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.” The bill was sponsored by Montana Republican State Sen. Shelley Vance, who remarked that TikTok is a “major threat to our national security.”
Jamal Brown, a spokesman for TikTok who previously worked in the Biden administration, said that more than 200,000 people and 6,000 businesses use the platform in Montana. “We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” Brooke Oberwetter, another spokesperson for TikTok, told media outlets.
Beyond the national security concerns, some lawmakers have drawn attention to the censorship practices implemented by TikTok and called for a mandatory divestiture of the platform from ByteDance. Shou Zi Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, insisted in his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee two months ago that a forced sale of TikTok to an American company would not resolve the issues.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party,” the executive remarked. “Divestment doesn’t address the fundamental concerns that I have heard, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. This is not an issue of nationality.”
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.