TikTok and ByteDance Sue U.S. Government Over Law Mandating Divestiture or Ban

Update: 2024-05-21 12:30 GMT
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TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, have initiated legal proceedings against the U.S. government in response to new legislation mandating ByteDance to divest its ownership of the social media platform or face a ban within the United States. The suit, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, claims the legislation violates the First...

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TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, have initiated legal proceedings against the U.S. government in response to new legislation mandating ByteDance to divest its ownership of the social media platform or face a ban within the United States. The suit, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, claims the legislation violates the First Amendment rights of American users and challenges the feasibility of complying with the divestment requirements.

The law at the center of the dispute between TikTok, ByteDance, and the U.S. government is known as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, encapsulated in H.R.815. This legislation mandates that ByteDance, the China-based parent company of TikTok, divest its ownership of the popular social media app within 270 days, with a possible 90-day extension. If ByteDance fails to meet this requirement, TikTok will face a nationwide ban in the United States.

Key Provisions of the Law:

  1. ByteDance must sell its stake in TikTok within 270 days from the date the law was signed.
  2. The U.S. President can grant a one-time extension of 90 days if significant progress toward divestiture is demonstrated.
  3. If ByteDance does not complete the divestiture within the stipulated timeframe, TikTok will be banned from operating in the U.S.
  4. This ban includes removal from app stores and discontinuation of web hosting services within the U.S.
  5. The law is premised on concerns that TikTok's ownership by a Chinese company poses a threat to U.S. national security.

In their 65-page petition, TikTok and ByteDance argue that the law infringes upon the First Amendment by effectively silencing a significant platform for free expression. They contend that the mandated divestiture is not narrowly tailored to address national security concerns and unnecessarily restricts free speech.

The lawsuit states that it is "commercially, technologically, and legally unfeasible" for ByteDance to divest its ownership within the 270-day period specified by the law. The companies argue that the law's requirements are impossible to meet within the given timeframe, effectively forcing a shutdown of TikTok by January 19, 2025.

The suit claims the law is an unconstitutional bill of attainder, which punishes specific entities without a judicial trial. By targeting TikTok and ByteDance specifically, the law allegedly singles them out for punishment without due process.

TikTok and ByteDance argue that the law violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. They argue that the act unfairly targets and discriminates against them which infringes on their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

In another lawsuit, eight TikTok content creators have also sued to block the law, arguing that it will devastate their livelihoods and violate their First Amendment rights. These creators, who have built substantial followings and derive significant income from TikTok, argue that a ban would force them to seek alternative employment and disrupt their personal and professional lives.

This lawsuit is not the first attempt to ban TikTok in the U.S. Previous efforts, including executive orders issued by former President Donald Trump, were blocked by federal courts on similar constitutional grounds. State-level bans, like the one enacted in Montana, have also faced judicial challenges over free speech issues.

U.S. officials have voiced concerns that TikTok could be used by the Chinese government to access sensitive information from American users or manipulate public opinion. These concerns have driven bipartisan support for the legislation, although public opinion remains divided. Surveys indicate that younger Americans are more likely to oppose a ban on TikTok compared to older demographics.

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