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TikTok fights potential app store ban by suing U.S. government

ByteDance says the law requiring it to sell TikTok to a U.S.-based company violates First Amendment protections.

Logo of TikTok superimposed on the United States Capitol Building under a clear blue sky.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has moved forward with its promise to sue the U.S. Government over a recently enacted law that bans the app from being offered in American app stores unless TikTok is divested to a U.S.-based company.

In a complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday, ByteDance said it could not simply hand over TikTok to an American company and warned that the service would effectively have to shut down in the U.S. by next January because of the law.

“For the first time in history, Congress has enacted a law that subjects a single, named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, and bars every American from participating in a unique online community with more than 1 billion people worldwide,” attorneys for ByteDance argued in their complaint.

Is TikTok a security risk?

No TikTok sign over government building.
Image: KnowTechie

President Biden signed the so-called “TikTok ban” into law last month after the measure was rolled into an appropriations bill to direct funding to military aid initiatives in Ukraine and Israel.

The fast-tracked bill was the latest attempt by federal lawmakers to target TikTok and ByteDance over perceived security issues involving how the app collects, stores, and shares data from American users with foreign officials, including the Chinese government. ByteDance is based in China. 

ByteDance argues that U.S. officials haven’t shown any proof that TikTok’s data collection poses a security risk

“Even the statements by individual Members of Congress and a congressional committee report merely indicate concern about the hypothetical possibility that TikTok could be misused in the future, without citing specific evidence,” the lawsuit reads, noting that TikTok has operated in the U.S. since 2017.

That doesn’t mean TikTok has escaped scrutiny on all matters: In late 2022, Forbes published a report that alleged employees at TikTok had surveilled American journalists to learn the sources of leaked information about the company.

ByteDance later affirmed that some of its employees had surveilled reporters but characterized the situation as a one-off and a violation of its policy. ByteDance said the responsible individuals were fired.

The surveillance of American journalists added fodder to complaints from lawmakers and government officials that TikTok threatened homeland security.

The Pentagon and other agencies banned TikTok from being installed on government devices, and the state of Montana moved forward with its own TikTok law that would ban the app from being made available to residents and businesses in the state.

(Montana’s TikTok ban was blocked by a judge late last year while a legal challenge moves its way through the court.)

ByteDance: TikTok ban violates First Amendment

A person holds a phone with the app TikTok followers on the screen
Image: Pexels

ByteDance says legislative efforts to ban TikTok in the U.S. are an infringement of First Amendment protections concerning speech, expression and association, and that shutting off TikTok in the U.S. would prevent Americans from interacting with 1 billion users around the world.

Lawmakers say the trade-offs are justified on national security grounds.

“Congress and the Executive Branch have concluded, based on both publicly available and classified information, that TikTok poses a grave risk to national security and the American people,” Rep. John Moolenaar, the Chairperson of the House Select Committee on China, said in a statement this week.

“It is telling that TikTok would rather spend its time, money, and effort fighting in court than solving the problem by breaking up with the (Chinese Communist Party). I’m confident that our legislation will be upheld.”

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Matthew Keys is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers the intersection of media, technology and journalism. He is the publisher of TheDesk.net and a contributor to KnowTechie, StreamTV Insider (formerly Fierce Video) and Digital Content Next. Matthew is based in Northern California.

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