Montana AG defends TikTok ban after company sues

  • TikTok is suing Montana over its ban of the social media app
  • The attorney general called the lawsuit "expected" and "pro forma"
  • Lawmakers are concerned about TikTok's data collection practices

(NewsNation) — TikTok has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Montana’s ban on the social media app, saying the state has no authority to take action on matters of national security.

Calling the lawsuit “pro forma,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen defended the ban as necessary to protect Americans.

“This is about TikTok and the Chinese Communist Party monitoring and spying on the people of Montana,” he said Monday in an exclusive interview with NewsNation on “CUOMO.”

The lawsuit by TikTok, owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, follows one filed last week by five content creators. Both the company and content creators argue the ban, the first of its kind, violates First Amendment free speech rights.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill Wednesday and the content creators’ lawsuit was filed hours later. The law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, but cybersecurity experts say it could be difficult to enforce.

Lawmakers across the country and in Washington have been sounding the alarm about TikTok and the company’s supposed connection to the Chinese Communist Party, as well as its data collection practices. The company’s CEO told Congress earlier this year TikTok doesn’t share and wouldn’t share U.S. user data with the Chinese government.

Knudsen and Montana lawmakers have been skeptical of those claims.

“There’s ample evidence out there that China is using TikTok to spy on Americans,” Knudsen said. “The statement that this is not happening is just simply demonstrably false.”

Chinese law compels Chinese companies to share data with the government for whatever purposes it deems to involve national security. TikTok says this has never happened.

The federal government and about half the U.S. states, including Montana, have banned TikTok from government-owned devices.

Montana’s new law prohibits downloads of TikTok in the state. It would fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

Responding to criticism about targeting TikTok and not other American social media companies that collect data, Knudsen said the difference is that TikTok does not allow users to opt out.

“You have no choice here,” he said.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew said at a March congressional hearing TikTok is owned by global investors, not China, including American members of the board. He described the privacy situation as having a “firewall” around American data, stored on American soil by an American company, managed by American personnel. The company is in the process of deleting legacy data on American users and Chew said the process is expected to be complete this year.

The Associated Press and NewsNation reporters Allison Harris and Stephanie Whiteside contributed to this report.


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