TikTok CEO Chew: Montana’s ban on the app ‘unconstitutional’

TikTok CEO Chew: Montana's ban on the app 'unconstitutional'
A smartphone with a displayed TikTok logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken February 23, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/

By Andrew Mills and Aziz El Yaakoubi

DOHA (Reuters) – TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said on Tuesday the U.S. state of Montana’s ban of the app was unconstitutional and that he was confident his company will prevail in a lawsuit challenging the decision.

The Chinese-owned company filed a lawsuit on Monday against Montana’s decision to ban TikTok from operating in the state to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China.

“We believe that the Montana bill that was recently passed is simply unconstitutional,” Chew told the Qatar Economic Forum organised by Bloomberg.

U.S. lawmakers and state government officials have called for a nationwide ban on the video-sharing app, which is used by more than 150 million Americans, over concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.

“The Chinese government never asked us for U.S. users’ data and we will not provide even if asked,” Chew said.

Chew said his company has worked with Oracle to keep U.S. users data stored in the United States.

“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.

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.