A group of TikTok users has sued to overturn Montana’s new statewide ban blocking the app, alleging that the law signed this week by Gov. Greg Gianforte violates the First Amendment.
The complaint filed Wednesday evening in the US District Court for the District of Montana — hours after the governor’s signature — compares TikTok to other types of media in claiming that the state lacks the authority to keep Montanans from accessing and creating lawful speech.
“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,” said the complaint, filed by five TikTok creators, including a small swimwear business, a rancher and a former Marine sergeant.
The lawsuit marks what may be the first challenge to a controversial ban that goes far beyond the restrictions Montana and other states have already enacted.
Other states have prohibited TikTok on official government devices amid concerns about its ties to China through its parent company. The Montana ban attempts to prohibit TikTok from operating in the state and to block downloads of TikTok on personal devices, but would not penalize individuals for using TikTok. The ban is currently set to take effect in January.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Gianforte said: “While the Chinese Communist Party may try to hide their nefarious spying and collection of individuals’ personal, private, sensitive information under the banner of our First Amendment, the governor has an obligation to protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”
There is no public evidence to suggest that the Chinese government has actually accessed TikTok’s US user data. TikTok’s CEO has previously said the Chinese government has never asked the company for its data.
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said in a statement that “we expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law.”
In addition to the First Amendment claims, the lawsuit argues Montana’s ban deprives TikTok users of many other rights without due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It also alleges the ban unconstitutionally conflicts with federal authority to set foreign policy and to oversee interstate commerce. And it claims the ban undercuts the federal government’s powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.