By David Shepardson
(Reuters) -A group of 18 state attorneys general said on Monday they backed Montana’s effort to ban Chinese-owned short video app TikTok, urging a U.S. judge to reject legal challenges ahead of the Jan. 1 effective date.
The state attorneys general led by Virginia and including Georgia, Alaska, Utah, Indiana, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and South Dakota said the suits from TikTok and users should be rejected “because TikTok intentionally engages in deceptive business practices which induce individuals to share sensitive personal information that can be easily accessed by the Chinese Communist Party and because TikTok’s platform harms children in Montana.”
TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, and filed a suit in May seeking to block the first-of-its-kind U.S. state ban on several grounds, arguing it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of the company and users.
A hearing on TikTok’s request for a preliminary injunction is set for Oct. 12.
The states say TikTok, which is used by more than 150 million Americans, has faced growing calls from U.S. lawmakers for a nationwide ban over concerns about possible Chinese government influence. Efforts to pass legislation to give the Biden administration more power to ban or crack down on TikTok have stalled.
Last month, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, said the state legislature and governor “did the right thing in prohibiting TikTok from operating in Montana as long as it is under the control of a foreign adversary.”
In March, lawmakers accused TikTok of serving harmful content and inflicting “emotional distress” on young users.
TikTok says it “has not shared, and would not share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and has taken substantial measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok users.”
Montana could impose fines of $10,000 for each violation by TikTok. The law does not impose penalties on individual TikTok users.
TikTok estimates 380,000 people in Montana use the video service, or more than a third of the state’s 1.1 million people.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020 sought to bar new downloads of TikTok but a series of court decisions blocked the ban from taking effect.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese)