TikTok Sues US Government

Argues new law violates First Amendment right to free speech

clock • 3 min read
TikTok Sues US Government

TikTok's parent company ByteDance has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, arguing that a recent law forcing its sale is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

The law, signed by President Biden last month, gives Chinese-owned ByteDance nine months to either sell TikTok's U.S. operations to an American company or face a ban.

The move comes amid concerns from lawmakers about potential national security risks associated with TikTok's Chinese ownership.

However, ByteDance is now taking a legal stand. The lawsuit claims the ban effectively silences millions of American users and disrupts the livelihoods of content creators who rely on the platform.

It further claims that the forced sale violates the US constitution, particularly First Amendment rights to free speech. 

ByteDance argues the new law sets a dangerous precedent, allowing the government to silence unwanted voices by claiming national security threats.

"If Congress can do this, it can circumvent the First Amendment by invoking national security and ordering the publisher of any individual newspaper or website to sell to avoid being shut down," the lawsuit said.

"And for TikTok, any such divestiture would disconnect Americans from the rest of the global community on a platform devoted to shared content—an outcome fundamentally at odds with the Constitution's commitment to both free speech and individual liberty."

Beyond the free speech concerns, TikTok also claims the forced sale is practically impossible.

It argues that the app's US operations are intricately linked with its global platform, and that separating US operations is technically impossible as content and coding are intertwined across borders. Additionally, the company claims the Chinese government refuses to sell the recommendation algorithm powering the app, further complicating a potential sale.

This legal battle echoes a similar situation from last year, where a Montana state law banning TikTok was struck down on First Amendment grounds.

Since 2020, both the Trump and Biden administrations have expressed concerns about TikTok, resulting in bans on the app on government devices across the country. The app's data collection practices and its Chinese ownership have fueled these anxieties.

In an attempt to address these concerns, TikTok launched "Project Texas" in 2022. This initiative aimed to improve data security and transparency regarding US user data. However, these efforts seem to have fallen short of appeasing US officials.

The current case hinges on the balance between security concerns and the free flow of information.

In the court, the government is expected to highlight the app's potential for foreign influence, while TikTok will focus on security measures already implemented, like data separation and third-party content oversight.

The U.S. is not the only country to have concerns about TikTok's data security practices.

In 2020, India banned the app, prompting similar actions from countries like Iran, Senegal, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Other nations, including the UK, Canada, Australia, and the EU, have imposed restrictions on TikTok's usage on government and military devices.

Last year, European regulators imposed a €345 million fine (about $432M USD) on TikTok, citing its inadequate protection of children's personal data.

Also last year, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) imposed a fine of £12.7 million (about $15.9M USD) on TikTok after determining that the platform permitted 1.4 million children in the UK to register, even when they were below the age of 13.

This article originally appeared on our sister site Computing. 

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