By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -TikTok Inc on Monday filed a lawsuit challenging the state of Montana’s new ban on use of the Chinese-owned app, the first state to bar the popular short-video sharing service.
TikTok argues the ban, which would take effect on Jan. 1, violates First Amendment rights of the company and users. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Montana, also argues the ban is pre-empted by federal law because it intrudes upon matters of exclusive federal concern and violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which limits the authority of States to enact legislation that unduly burdens interstate and foreign commerce.
TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance and used by more than 150 million Americans, has faced growing calls from U.S. lawmakers and state officials to ban the app nationwide over concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.
Montana could impose fines of $10,000 for each violation by TikTok and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the ban. The law does not impose penalties on individual TikTok users. It is not clear how Montana would enforce a TikTok ban.
Former President Donald Trump in 2020 sought to bar new downloads of TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent, and related transactions, which the companies said at the time could have effectively barred U.S. use of the apps, but a series of court decisions blocked the bans from taking effect.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner said the likelihood of federal courts overturning Montana’s ban made it even more essential for Congress to pass the legislation he introduced to give the president new powers to ban or impose restrictions on TikTok and other foreign-owned apps.
TikTok estimates it has hundreds of thousands of active users in the state, which has a total of about 1.1 million residents.
The company says in its lawsuit that it “has not shared, and would not share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and has taken substantial measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok users.”
Last week, five TikTok users in Montana filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the state’s ban.
TikTok’s lawsuit names Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who is charged with enforcing the law. Knudsen’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Knudsen, said the state was ready for lawsuits. “We expected legal challenges and are fully prepared to defend the law that helps protect Montanans’ privacy and security,” she said Monday.
(Reporting by Jasper Ward and David Shepardson in WashingtonWriting by Paul GrantEditing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker)