TECH TikTok CEO Chew: confident of stopping 'unconstitutional' Montana ban


TikTok CEO Chew: confident of stopping 'unconstitutional' Montana ban


13:27, May 24, 2023

A logo of TikTok. (Photo: CFP)

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said on Tuesday the U.S. state of Montana's ban of the app was unconstitutional, and he was confident that the company will prevail in a lawsuit challenging the decision.

The Chinese company filed a lawsuit on Monday against Montana's decision to ban TikTok from operating in the state, the first U.S. state to bar the popular short-video sharing service. TikTok argues the ban, which would take effect on January 1 next year, violates First Amendment rights of the company and users.

Chew was speaking just hours after TikTok filed suit in U.S. federal court, arguing that Montana's ban violates the constitutionally protected right to free speech.

"We believe that the Montana bill that was recently passed is simply unconstitutional," Chew told the Qatar Economic Forum.

"We very recently filed a lawsuit, the challenge is in the courts and we are confident that we will prevail," he added.

Chew said TikTok could have "positive impact" on users, citing the example of a user with autism who has "found his voice through music" that he shares on the app.

"That gives me a lot of confidence that we can have very thoughtful conversations with regulators around the world," said Chew. "And I'm confident that we are here to stay."

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a hearing of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on children on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 23, 2023. (Photo: CFP)

User data protection

With more than one billion active users including about 150 million in the U.S., Chew insisted that TikTok had taken steps to protect U.S. users' data by storing it "on American soil by an American company and overseen by American personnel."

"We believe that we have taken steps that are above and beyond what our industry has done to protect the safety of the U.S. individual," he said.

"The Chinese government never asked us for U.S. users' data and we will not provide even if asked," Chew said, adding that his company has worked with Oracle to keep U.S. users data stored in the U.S.

"Today by default, all U.S. data is stored in the Oracle cloud service already," he said.

"We have built over the last two years something we call internally 'Project Texas,' which ensures that American data is stored on American soil by an American company and overseen by American personnel," Chew added.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, November 16, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

Nationwide outcry upon Montana's ban

The Republican-led House of the U.S. state of Montana approved a bill last month banning TikTok in the state, making it the first U.S. state to pass legislation banning the popular social media app on personal devices.

The move triggered opposition across the U.S. arguing that it infringes on citizens' rights to free expression and access to information.

The state is trying to exercise national security power that only the federal government can wield and is violating free speech rights in the process, both suits filed against Montana argue.

"They care because TikTok is very important to them," Chew said, referring to the users who filed suit.

In March, a congressional committee grilled Chew about whether the Chinese government could access user data or influence what Americans see on the app. But calls to ban TikTok nationwide or give the Biden administration new powers to crack down or ban TikTok have not advanced in Congress.

Montana could impose fines of $10,000 for each violation by TikTok and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the ban. The law does not impose penalties on individual TikTok users. It is not clear how Montana would enforce a TikTok ban.

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