The state government in Montana has passed a law that prohibits the use of TikTok, but the ban will not go on the books without a fight. Two separate lawsuits — one from TikTok itself and another from a group of creators — are challenging the new decree on First Amendment grounds.
Montana officially passed its TikTok ban on May 17. The law uses similar language to the federal government’s RESTRICT Act. It allows lawmakers to restrict apps with strong ties to foreign adversaries like China and Russia.
To enforce those restrictions, Montana plans to go after digital marketplaces like the App Store and Google Play Store. Starting on January 1, 2024, Apple and Google will be mandated to remove TikTok from their respective Stores in Montana. If they don’t, they could face fines of $10,000 per day.
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“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gianforte said after signing the latest anti-TikTok bill into law. “Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok and its community have responded to this edict by challenging the authority of the Montanan government. The first lawsuit came from a group of five creators, who collectively count more than one million followers on TikTok. They are arguing that the First Amendment protects their right to express themselves on the ByteDance-owned app even if their privacy is compromised in the process.
To help their case, the plaintiffs are demonstrating the ways a TikTok ban would affect their livelihood. Carly Goddard, a “ranch wife” with about 100,000 followers, said that she has been able to triple her family’s earnings through short-form videos. Metalworker and veteran Rick Baker estimated that TikTok is responsible for about 60% of his income. “It would be a huge hit for me,” Baker said. “I don’t think lawmakers understand the impact this can have on small business.”
@carlygoddardd Since it’s out there, I am a plaintiff in the Montana Tiktok ban lawsuit. It’s so important to use our voice on this matter and represent the state of Montana. This community is beyond amazing and I am SO grateful for all of you!!!♥️ #ranchwife #montana #montanatiktokban #ranchwivesoftiktok #cowboyswife #cowboysmomma #lifestylevlog #lifestyle #vlog #fyp #mom #wife ♬ Plain Jane – Hailey Whitters
Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, speculated that TikTok itself had behind-the-scenes involvement in the creator suit. “We expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law,” Flower said in a statement.
TikTok could be supporting its litigious creators, but it definitely has a lawsuit of its own on the docket. The app is seeking an injunction that would prevent the Montana law from going into effect. “We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.”
Beyond the First Amendment challenge, the TikTok suit also argues that the Montana government is overstepping by enacting its own ban rather than waiting for a Congressional decision. Lawmakers in D.C. could still choose to crack down on TikTok at the federal level, but the app hopes to avoid that fate by assigning Oracle as the shepherd of its U.S. user data.
That effort, known as Project Texas, just took a big step forward. TikTok is in the process of handing its source code over to Oracle so that the Austin-based tech company can inspect its algorithm. The legal challenges in Montana could set an important precedent that would help Project Texas move from a proposal to an official plan.