TikTok users file lawsuit to block ban in Montana

Five TikTok users in Montana have filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the ban on the short-form video platform, claiming that the law infringes upon their First Amendment rights. 

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday (May 17), shortly after Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill restricting downloads of the app into law. 

The five plaintiffs — Samantha Alario, Heather Dirocco, Carly Ann Goddard, Alice Held and Dale Stout — are Montana residents who describe themselves as “creators and viewers of content on TikTok”.

“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,” they said in the lawsuit.

They argued that the government’s claimed interests in Senate Bill 419 (SB 419) “are not legitimate and do not support a blanket ban on TikTok.”

“Even if Montana could regulate any of the speech that users share through TikTok, SB 419 wields a sledgehammer when the First Amendment requires a scalpel.”

The lead counsel in the lawsuit, filed by Davis Wright Termaine, is Ambika Kumar, who represented other creators in securing an injunction of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 ban on TikTok.

“Even if Montana could regulate any of the speech that users share through TikTok, SB 419 wields a sledgehammer when the First Amendment requires a scalpel.”

TikTok Creators

The TikTok creators’ legal team also asserted that SB 419 is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law as it violates several constitutional provisions.

They argued that the law not only violates individual rights but also disregards the preemption of federal law in matters concerning national security and foreign economic actors.

The plaintiffs claim that SB 419 is preempted by the international emergency economic powers of the US Defense Production Act, which authorize the president and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), not individual states, to investigate and address national security risks associated with foreign economic actors.

Montana is the first state in the US to enact an outright ban of TikTok.

In banning the app, Montana stressed that the action was taken to protect users’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.

“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 bill.

The ban also imposes a fine of $10,000 per day for app stores each time someone “is offered the ability” to download the app.

The TikTok creators who lodged the case seek to preserve their rights to publish, view and share content through TikTok after amassing significant audiences, according to the lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Montana.

The lawsuit was filed against the office of Montana’s Attorney-General Austin Knudsen.

In response, Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Knudsen, reportedly told Reuters: “We expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law.”

TikTok, which has already spent millions of dollars lobbying the US government to keep the ban operating in the country, has already denounced the ban as “unlawful.”

“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,” TikTok spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter, had said.

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