TikTok sues Montana over its new law banning the app
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
TikTok is fighting back against Montana's planned ban on the popular social media app.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The operators of the site filed the lawsuit. They object to Montana's new law, which bans a site where you can find people dancing, cats, point-of-view videos and, quite often, somebody's take on the news. A group of five content creators also filed suit against the state.
MARTIN: NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn is with us now to talk about how the future of TikTok could be tied to how this case shakes out. Bobby, hello. Thanks for joining us.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: So before we get to the lawsuit, if you could just walk us back a minute and remind us about why Montana is trying to ban TikTok.
ALLYN: Yeah, the short answer is China. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based internet company ByteDance, and Montana officials worry that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spy on Americans or try to use the app to influence the views of Americans. Washington, of course, is also concerned about this. Now, dozens of states have banned TikTok on government devices, but making it illegal to download an app within a state's borders is really something the U.S. has never seen before. And skeptics of the law say it amounts to theater - right? - that it's really a way to score political points for being seen as being tough on China. But, you know, Montana officials say they are genuinely concerned about the privacy and safety of its state's TikTok users. Now, the law doesn't fully kick in until January 2024.
MARTIN: Unless, of course, it's not struck down, which is what TikTok is hoping for with the lawsuit. So tell us a bit more about TikTok's arguments.
ALLYN: Yeah, lawyers for TikTok are leaning really heavily here on the First Amendment, which is a very strong legal shield in the courts. Any time the government tries to restrict free speech, it's basically presumed it's not allowed unless some very specific requirements are met, like protecting national security. And that's something Montana is citing. But TikTok's legal team says the law points to no solid evidence that TikTok is a national security threat, saying they are relying on, quote, "unfounded speculation." Another argument TikTok makes is that even if there was a national security concern, that would be up to the federal government and not an individual state to address. And all the legal experts I've talked to say TikTok has a very strong case. But ultimately, it will be up to a federal judge to decide.
MARTIN: There seems to be a lot riding on this one lawsuit. Is that so, and why is that?
ALLYN: Yeah, it really is. And that's because TikTok is in limbo right now. The White House is weighing what to do about TikTok. Top Biden officials are keeping an eye on how this shakes out in the courts because federal officials themselves have threatened to ban TikTok nationwide, but haven't in part because of concerns that it would be thrown out in court. Also, if the Montana law is upheld by a judge, it could create something of a snowball effect, right? I mean, more states could pass copycat laws banning TikTok, which - just imagine - would be a real nightmare, right? Imagine crossing a state line and pulling up your TikTok app and not being able to access it. That would just be wild.
MARTIN: Let's just say, for the sake of argument, this law does take effect. How would it be enforced?
ALLYN: Yeah. Cybersecurity experts are really skeptical that it's going to be easy to enforce. Right now, the law intends to punish companies like Apple and Google for making TikTok available, not the people using TikTok. Still, it's not even clear that Apple and Google can completely prevent that from being downloaded in a single state. There are some blunt-force ways to block an app in a state, but there would be so many ways around it - so many loopholes - you know, not to mention the unintended consequences, like accidentally banning the app in neighboring states, which would create a whole new set of legal problems. Really, a nationwide ban would be much easier to implement. But I think we all can recall that former President Trump tried to do that, and it was struck down in court.
MARTIN: That's NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. Bobby, thank you.
ALLYN: Thank you.
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