(San Francisco) TikTok, a subsidiary of Chinese group ByteDance, unsurprisingly filed a lawsuit on Monday against Montana, the US state that last week enacted a law to ban the app next year.
This ban “violates the Constitution of the United States in multiple ways”, says the company, and in particular the first amendment which guarantees “freedom of expression”, argues the document consulted by AFP.
Many US lawmakers believe the platform of short, entertaining videos, frequented by 150 million Americans, allows Beijing to spy on and manipulate users. The company has always denied these accusations.
But the Montana parliament adopted a text in mid-April which orders mobile application stores (Apple and Google) to no longer distribute TikTok from January 1, 2024, while Congress and the White House are considering projects similar laws.
“TikTok exercises editorial judgment, a constitutionally protected right, to disseminate and promote content created by third parties,” the company’s attorneys say.
The complaint also refers to a principle of fairness. “Instead of regulating social media in general, the law bans TikTok, and only TikTok for punitive reasons […] based on speculative concerns about data security and content moderation,” argue the lawyers.
Democratic representatives had already pointed out during the debates that many criticisms made of TikTok, on data confidentiality, misinformation or the harmful effects on the health of the youngest (addiction, depression) also concern other social networks, such as Instagram.
As soon as the governor of this northwestern American state, Greg Gianforte, signed the law into law last Wednesday, many voices were raised to accuse Montana of censorship or to point out that the text would be difficult to enforce, technically and legally. .
“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature are trampling on the freedom of speech of hundreds of thousands of residents who use this app to express themselves, find information and promote their small business, in the name of sentiment. anti-Chinese,” Keegan Medrano, an official with the local branch of the powerful civil rights group ACLU, said on Wednesday.
Five TikTok users have filed an appeal in federal court in Montana seeking the invalidation of the law.
Under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, “TikTok has the right to distribute information, and users have the right to receive information and also to distribute it,” noted Lyrissa Lidsky, a law professor at the University of Florida.
The text therefore has “a strong chance of being considered unconstitutional”, she detailed.
The law would be invalidated if TikTok were taken over by an American company (or from a country that is not an enemy of the United States), and the White House has encouraged TikTok to seek this type of solution if it wants to be able to stay in the country. .
The fate of TikTok in the United States has been debated for several years. Donald Trump had already tried, in vain, to ban the application.
But more recent trade and political tensions with China are fueling animosity among elected officials and public opinion towards the Chinese government. The flight in February of a supposed Chinese spy balloon, especially over Montana, did not help matters.
TikTok is already banned on the phones of employees of many organizations, from the European Commission to federal agencies in the United States. India completely banned the service in 2020.
NGOs and elected Democrats repeat, however, that users will only have to use VPNs (virtual private network), which allow access to the Internet from another location, to circumvent the law.
And they won’t be penalized, because the law only provides fines for app stores.
“The irony is that Montana is the anti-government and regulatory capital. All that matters is freedom – except when it comes to TikTok apparently,” Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, commented on Monday.