TikTok fights back with legal challenge against US law forcing divestiture

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In a significant legal move, TikTok has initiated a robust challenge against the new legislation signed by President Joe Biden, which could potentially ban the app in the United States. The law stipulates that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, must sell the app to an American owner within 270 days or face exclusion from US app stores. This legislation emerges after prolonged apprehensions regarding the app’s potential to compromise national security by surveilling Americans or influencing public discourse.

On Tuesday, TikTok filed a lawsuit contesting the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. In its filing, TikTok argues that the act is a targeted and unconstitutional ban on the platform, infringing on its First Amendment rights and those of its 170 million American users.

The complaint states, “There are good reasons why Congress has never before enacted a law like this,” pointing out the unique and unprecedented nature of the legislation which applies a singular set of rules to TikTok, differing from those for other platforms.

TikTok’s legal challenge is a reaction to years of escalating tensions fueled by fears that its algorithm, developed in China, could be misused for surveillance or to manipulate public discourse. These concerns were heightened by reports suggesting ByteDance has previously used TikTok for spying and suppressing sensitive topics.

In its defense, TikTok has described the data security and content risks as “speculative and analytically flawed,” arguing that such speculative risks are insufficient grounds for infringing on constitutional values like free speech.

The lawsuit also highlights the economic and social impacts of a potential ban, noting that previous attempts to block the app under the Trump administration were halted by legal challenges supported by TikTok creators.

TikTok’s filing emphasizes the impracticality of divesting its operations in a manner that would satisfy the new requirements, stating that such a “qualified divestiture” is not feasible commercially, technologically, or legally.

Furthermore, TikTok has criticized the law for its broad application, which would affect not only TikTok but other ByteDance-owned apps widely used in the US, which have not been scrutinized to the same extent.

The company has proposed alternative methods for addressing national security concerns, such as a deal with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) or the adoption of comprehensive national privacy laws similar to the EU’s Digital Services Act.

As the legal battle unfolds, TikTok’s efforts to fight the ban underline the complex interplay of business interests, national security, and constitutional rights at a time when digital platforms are increasingly under the microscope.

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