Five TikTok users in Montana who create content for the short-video app have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the state’s new ban on the Chinese-owned platform.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation on Wednesday prohibiting the use of TikTok in the state, effective January 1. The five users are attempting to overturn the regulation, which makes it illegal for Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google and Apple Inc (AAPL.O) app stores to provide TikTok within the state.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Montana, names the state’s attorney general, Austin Knudsen, as the person in charge of implementing the statute.
According to TikTok users, the state is attempting to “exercise powers over national security that Montana does not have and to ban speech that Montana may not suppress.” According to the lawsuit, users feel the law violates their First Amendment rights.
“Montana cannot prohibit its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok any more than it can prohibit the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” according to the lawsuit.
Knudsen spokeswoman Emily Flower said the state was prepared to face legal action. “We expected a legal challenge and are fully prepared to defend the law,” she explained.
TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, has come under increasing pressure from US lawmakers and state officials to ban the app worldwide, citing concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the site.
According to the lawsuit, the five plaintiffs, all Montana residents, include a designer of sustainable swimwear who uses TikTok to promote her company and engage with customers; a former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant who uses TikTok to connect with other veterans; a rancher who uses TikTok to share content about her outdoor adventures; a student who is studying applied human physiology and shares content about her outdoor adventures; and a man who shares humorous videos on TikTok and earns revenue from the content he posts.
On Wednesday, following the governor’s signing of the law, Knudsen, who, like Gianforte, is a Republican, called TikTok “a Chinese Communist Party spying tool that poses a threat to every Montana.”
TikTok on Wednesday, shortly after the governor signed the bill, said Montana’s ban “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and said it will “continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
Gianforte said the bill will further “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”
TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.
The suit is assigned to Judge Donald Molloy, who was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995.
Montana, which has a population of just over 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the ban.
An attempt by former President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.