Washington/Missoula Just hours after the Chinese-developed video app Tiktok was banned in Montana, five users from the US state have filed a lawsuit. You see how other critics of the ban endanger the right to freedom of expression.
“Montana cannot ban its residents from using Tiktok and posting there any more than the Wall Street Journal can ban because of its owner or the ideas it publishes,” a federal court official said Wednesday night complaint filed in Missoula.
The state is exceeding its authority to enact such a ban with reference to national security or foreign policy reasons. Montana should also not ban an entire platform just because the state perceives some of the statements made there, which are protected by free speech, as dangerous.
Tiktok belongs to the Chinese internet group Bytedance and is under strong political pressure in the USA. President Joe Biden’s administration banned its employees from using the app on cell phones. An investigation has been ongoing for months that could lead to a nationwide ban on Tiktok if there is no change in ownership. The background is concerns that Chinese authorities and secret services could collect information about Americans via Tiktok and influence them politically.
On Wednesday, Montana became the first US state to ban the video app, which is increasingly seen as a security risk outside of America, for example in the EU. The law, signed by Governor Greg Gianforte, will ban download platforms from offering the app from January 1, 2024. The appeal in court could delay the entry into force of the law.
“In order to protect the personal and private information of the people of Montana from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned Tiktok in Montana,” Republican Gianforte tweeted after signing the bill, which the state house of representatives passed in April.
Users should not be penalized if they keep and use the app on their devices. In the northwestern state, however, Tiktok should no longer operate as a company. For every day that the app was still available, the app store operators and Tiktok would have to pay a $10,000 fine.
Tiktok criticized the ban
Because of the major security concerns, Tiktok boss Shou Zi Chew had to answer questions in the US Congress at the end of March. He encountered distrust and rejection from both Republican and Democratic MPs. Tiktok emphasizes that it has never received data requests from Chinese authorities and would not comply with such requests. The company tries to convince Washington with the argument of secure data storage in the USA.
Montana, with a population of just over a million, is the first state to pass such sweeping legislation. The actions of the authorities there are therefore also considered a test for a possible ban throughout the USA. Technically, however, such a blockade should be easy to circumvent.
In a first reaction, Tiktok criticized the ban as a violation of the right to freedom of speech. We will work to protect the rights of users. The human rights organization ACLU warned that the law lay the basis for excessive state control over the Internet.
Tiktok has more than a billion users and is the most successful non-US online platform in western countries. The company emphasizes that it does not see itself as a subsidiary of a Chinese group. Bytedance is 60 percent owned by Western investors and the company is based in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders held 20 percent of the control thanks to higher voting rights and that Bytedance has a large headquarters in Beijing.
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