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TikTok is challenging the US ban in court, saying it violates the First Amendment

TikTok and its parent company filed a legal challenge against the United States on Tuesday over a law President Biden signed last month that would ban the app nationwide unless it finds a buyer within a year.

In the petition filed with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the company argues that the legislation oversteps the bounds of the Constitution and suppresses the speech of millions of Americans.

“For the first time in history, Congress has passed a law that subjects a single named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, banning every American from participating in a unique online community of more than 1 billion people worldwide,” the statement said. legal declaration.

The law, which was quickly passed by Congress and caught many within TikTok off guard, is intended to force TikTok to be sold to a non-Chinese company within nine months, with the possibility of a three-month extension if a potential sale is realised. in the game.

Lawmakers in Washington have long been suspicious of TikTok, fearing that its Chinese owner could use the popular app to spy on Americans or spread dangerous misinformation.

But in the company’s legal petition, attorneys for TikTok say that invoking “national security” does not give the government carte blanche to violate the First Amendment, especially, TikTok argues, when no public evidence has been presented that the Chinese government app used. as a weapon against Americans.

According to the filing, the law is based on “speculative and analytically flawed concerns about data security and content manipulation – concerns that, even if based in fact, could be addressed with much less restrictive and more narrowly targeted means.”

Constitutional scholars say there are few ways the government can restrict speech in a way that would survive a legal challenge. However, one of those ways is for the government to demonstrate a danger to national security. Also important, legal experts say, is for the government to demonstrate that suppressing speech is the least restrictive way to do so.

TikTok says Congress ignored less restrictive ways to address national security concerns.

The lawsuit marks the start of what could be the most significant battle for TikTok, which has fended off legal challenges to its existence in the US since former President Trump first tried to ban the app via executive order in the summer of 2020 . blocked by federal courts.

Since then, Democrats and Republicans have shown a rare moment of unity around calls to pressure TikTok to cut ties with ByteDance, the Beijing-based tech giant that owns the video streaming app.

Congress has never before passed legislation that could completely ban a wildly popular social media app, an act that the U.S. government has criticized authoritarian countries for.

In the case of TikTok, however, lawmakers have called the app a “spy bubble on your phone,” highlighting how the Chinese government could gain access to the personal data of U.S. citizens.

Concerns also persist in Washington that Beijing could influence Americans’ views by dictating which videos are promoted on the platform. That concern only increased seven months before the presidential election.

Yet the fears remain hypothetical so far.

There is no publicly available example of the Chinese government attempting to use TikTok as a spying or data collection tool. And no evidence that the Chinese government has ever had a hand in what TikTok’s 170 million American users see on the app every day.

TikTok, for its part, says it has invested $1.5 billion in a plan called Project Texas to separate its U.S. operations from its Chinese parent company. It deleted all US data from foreign servers and moved all data to servers on US soil controlled by Austin-based technology company Oracle. While the plan was intended to build trust with U.S. lawmakers and users, reports surfaced showing that data was still being shared between personnel in California and Beijing.

Despite the new law giving TikTok the ultimatum of sale or closure, there are many questions about how the app could even be purchased by another company or group of investors.

A major obstacle to a possible sale of TikTok would be winning China’s support. The country would have to sign off on any purchase of the app, and officials in Beijing are firmly against any forced sale.

In 2020, as the Trump administration clamped down on the app, China added “content recommendation algorithms” to its export control list, effectively adding new rules on how TikTok’s all-powerful algorithm could one day be sold.

ByteDance, not TikTok, developed and operates the algorithm that determines what millions see on the app every day. The technology has become the envy of Silicon Valley, and no American tech company has managed to dislodge TikTok’s tight grip on the short video market. Experts say the key to its success is its highly engaging and hyper-personalized video ranking algorithm.

Copyright 2024 NPR