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TikTok sues Biden administration to block new law that could lead to U.S. ban

TikTok sues over law that could lead to ban
TikTok sues U.S. government over law that could lead to ban of app 05:17

Washington — TikTok, the widely popular social media app, and its parent company ByteDance filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department on Tuesday over a new law that requires the platform to cut ties with its China-based owner within a year or be effectively banned from the United States.

The petition filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the measure signed into law by President Biden last month is unconstitutional in part because it violates the First Amendment rights of its users in the U.S. by effectively shutting down their access to the popular forum. Filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the petition calls for the court to block Attorney General Merrick Garland from enforcing the measure.

The suit names TikTok and Beijing-based ByteDance as plaintiffs and was filed against Garland.

The foreign aid package passed by Congress last month included a provision that required ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok within a year. If the company fails to meet that one-year deadline, TikTok would lose access to app stores and web-hosting providers, effectively cutting it off to the roughly 170 million users in the U.S. 

But TikTok said in its filing that while lawmakers portrayed the measure as a choice between divesture or a ban, "there is no question: the Act will force a shutdown of TikTok by January 19, 2025, silencing the 170 million Americans who use the platform to communicate in ways that cannot be replicated elsewhere."

The company said that the divestiture required by the law within a 270-day timeline, subject to a 90-day extension by the president, is "simply not possible," and pointed to the Chinese government's opposition to selling the technology that has made TikTok so wildly popular in the U.S. — its recommendation engine.

"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," TikTok wrote in its filing.

TikTok came under scrutiny by Congress amid concerns about the app's ties to China. U.S. officials have warned that the video-sharing platform is a threat to national security, in part because they say the Chinese government can use it to spy on Americans or weaponize the app to manipulate content and influence the public.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Intelligence Committee in March that the Chinese government could use TikTok's software to gain access to Americans' phones. Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress and across partisan lines have also expressed alarm about the app after participating in classified briefings.

Rep. John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said in a statement that Congress and the executive branch concluded that TikTok "poses a grave risk to national security and the American people." 

"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 CCP," he said.

TikTok's legal effort was not unexpected, as the company had pledged to challenge the law's constitutionality in court. The company has pointed to an initiative called "Project Texas," launched in 2022, to demonstrate its efforts to safeguard U.S. user data and the integrity of its platform from foreign government influence. TikTok also said it was involved in a draft agreement through negotiations with an obscure federal agency, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, that included a "shut-down option" allowing the app to be suspended in the U.S. if it failed to meet certain obligations.

The platform accused Congress in its petition of overlooking its investments "in favor of the politically expedient and punitive approach of targeting for disfavor one publisher and speaker (TikTok Inc.), one speech forum (TikTok), and that forum's ultimate owner (ByteDance Ltd.)"

Concerns about TikTok from policymakers have escalated in recent years, and more than 30 states and the federal government have banned the app on state-issued devices. Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2020 that would've prohibited transactions with ByteDance, citing the data collection that "threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information." But his attempts to ban the app were blocked by federal judges.

Montana became the first state to prohibit the app last year, but a federal judge blocked the measure in part because of First Amendment concerns.

But even amid those fears, several political figures have their own accounts, including Mr. Biden's presidential campaign and members of Congress. TikTok pointed to the use of the app by supporters of the ban in its petition and said it "undermines the claim that the platform poses an actual threat to Americans."

Caitlin Yilek and Kaia Hubbard contributed to this report.

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