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Digital Transformation TikTok Social Media

TikTok sues US government over ‘divest or ban’ bill, alleging First Amendment violations


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

May 7, 2024 | 5 min read

TikTok argues that a new US law aiming to force it into a sale or face a nationwide ban is unconstitutional, potentially violating millions of Americans’ free speech rights.

TikTok app logo

TikTok is clapping back against a new US law that aims to force it into a sale or a nationwide ban / Olivier Bergeron

TikTok on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the US government, contesting a law signed into effect by President Biden last month mandating that the platform’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, divest from the platform within nine to 12 months or face a nationwide ban.

The dispute centers on constitutional issues concerning free speech rights and national security concerns. TikTok alleges in its lawsuit that the law infringes on First Amendment rights by potentially restricting the free expression of its 170 million monthly US users.

The platform contends that complying with the mandated divestiture within the mandated timeframe is practically unfeasible due to technical and political obstacles in acquiring a suitable buyer.

“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 one billion people worldwide,” TikTok wrote in its complaint.

The platform argues that the law does not provide an adequate path for the app to continue operating in the US, suggesting that the bill is essentially an outright ban since divestiture is “simply not possible.”

TikTok’s legal challenge addresses the complexities of its global operations and technical dependencies and also highlights its investments in data security and privacy in recent years. The company agreed in 2022 to move all of its US user data to Oracle servers in the US – and has also drawn up a 90-page national security agreement that aims to address demands from the US government about how it processes, handles and stores US users’ information. The lawsuit points to these decisions to counteract lawmakers’ concerns about the app’s data privacy and security approach.

TikTok also underscored that its content recommendation system is under third-party oversight, aiming to dispel worries about content moderation and the spread of misinformation and propaganda on the platform.

The company claimed that national security concerns against it are purely “speculative” and don’t justify the potentially widespread restrictions of US citizens’ free speech rights.

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The company is seeking a ruling on the law’s constitutionality to halt its enforcement by US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The US Department of Justice, which drafted the legislation, is expected to defend it on national security grounds.

This legal dispute adds another chapter to TikTok’s ongoing battles with US authorities, which have spanned concerns about data privacy, national security, commerce, children’s safety and mental health.

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