United States: TikTok files complaint against Montana

TikTok, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, filed a complaint on Monday against the US state of Montana, which enacted a law last week to ban the application next year.

The ban “violates the United States Constitution in multiple ways”, the company says, and specifically the First Amendment which guarantees “freedom of expression”, argues the document consulted by AFP.

Several US lawmakers believe the platform for short, entertaining videos frequented by 150 million Americans allows Beijing to spy on and manipulate users. The company has always denied these allegations.

But the Montana legislature adopted a text in mid-April that orders mobile application stores (Apple and Google) not to distribute TikTok starting Jan. 1, 2024, while Congress and the White House work on plans for similar legislation. are considering.

“TikTok exercises editorial judgment, a constitutionally protected right to distribute and promote content created by third parties,” the company’s lawyers say.

They also argue that a US state does not have the legal power to ban the app on grounds of national security, a matter that falls under federal jurisdiction.

Grievance also refers to a principle of fairness. “Instead of regulating social networks in general, the law bans TikTok, and only TikTok for punitive reasons (…) based on speculative concerns about data protection and content moderation”, the lawyers argued. Is.

Democratic representatives pointed out earlier during the debate that many of the criticisms of TikTok on data privacy, misinformation or harmful effects on the health of the youngest (addiction, depression) are also related to other social networks, such as Instagram.

– “Anti-Chinese sentiment” –

As soon as the governor of this northwestern US state, Greg Gianforte, signed the law into law last Wednesday, many voices rose to accuse Montana of censorship or to point out that the text would be difficult to implement technically and legally. ,

Demonstration against the ban on TikTok, in Washington on March 22, 2023 (AFP/Archive – Brendan Smialowski)

“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature are trampling on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of residents who use this app to express themselves, find information, and promote their small businesses, all in the name of sense of belonging.” . Anti-Chinese,” Keegan Medrano, an official with the local branch of the powerful civil rights group ACLU, said Wednesday.

Five TikTok users have filed an appeal in federal court in Montana seeking to overturn the law.

Under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, “TikTok has a right to distribute information and users have a right to receive information and also a right to distribute it,” Lyrisa Lidsky, a law professor at the University of Florida, told AFP .

The text therefore has “a strong chance of being deemed unconstitutional”, she explained.

– “freedom” –

The law would be invalidated if TikTok is acquired by a US company (or from a country that is not an enemy of the United States), and the White House has encouraged TikTok to seek such a solution. has done if it wants to be able to last. in 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 recent trade and political tensions with China are fueling animosity between elected officials and public opinion toward the Chinese government. The February flight of alleged Chinese spy balloons, particularly over Montana, didn’t help matters.

TikTok is already banned on the phones of employees of a number of organisations, from the European Commission to federal agencies in the United States. India completely banned this service in 2020.

NGOs and elected Democrats reiterate, however, that users must only use VPNs (virtual private networks), which allow users to access the Internet from another location, to circumvent the law.

And they will not be punished, since the law provides for fines only for the App Store.

“The irony is that Montana is an anti-government, anti-regulation capital. All that matters is freedom — except when it comes to TikTok,” Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, commented on Monday .

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