TikTok has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Montana's new law that bans the app statewide, citing violations of Americans' First Amendment rights to free expression. TikTok, which claims to have 150 million monthly active users in the United States, argues that Montana's "extraordinary and unprecedented measures [are] based on nothing more than unfounded speculation." The law, signed by Governor Greg Gianforte, is set to go into effect on January 1 and seeks to protect Montanans' private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party. However, neither Montana officials nor the US government has provided evidence supporting that claim. TikTok's lawsuit also argues that Montana's ban would preempt federal law by intruding upon matters of national concern, including domestic security and foreign affairs.
The lawsuit filed by TikTok seeks to overturn the law, which will likely delay the measure. Tech experts have criticized the proposal as "technically incompetent" due to several factors, including that the app stores do not keep track of everyone who crosses the Montana state line. Furthermore, the law would ban TikTok from operating in the state and impose $10,000-a-day fines on any "entity," such as the Apple and Google app stores, that allows people in Montana to download the app. Civil rights and free-expression groups have argued that such a ban would be unconstitutional, calling on the courts to strike it down.
TikTok's lawsuit cites data from March, indicating that roughly 110,000 monthly active users accessed TikTok around Missoula, the home of the public University of Montana and the second-largest metropolitan area in the state. Montana officials have not yet commented on the lawsuit. The case highlights a broader debate over the short-video app and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, which some critics in the United States have said is vulnerable to Chinese government propaganda and espionage. The Biden administration has pushed ByteDance to sell TikTok, arguing that divestiture is the only measure that would resolve their concerns over foreign influence. Federal judges supported a similar argument when they blocked President Donald Trump's executive order banning TikTok and the Chinese app WeChat in 2020, saying the US government had provided "scant little evidence" to justify a ban that would "burden substantially more speech than is necessary."