TikTok: Montana to become first US state to ban app on personal devices
Governor Greg Gianforte signed the ban into law on Wednesday. It is due to take effect on 1 January.
The video-sharing platform says the ban "infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana".
TikTok has come under scrutiny from authorities around the world over concerns that data could be passed to the Chinese government.
The legislation, which would also bar app stores from carrying TikTok, the wildly popular viral video app, was approved 54 to 43 in the last of two votes in the State House. The State Senate passed it in March.
Gov. Greg Gianforte must decide whether to sign the bill into law, veto it or do nothing for 10 days after receiving the bill and let it become law without his signature. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gianforte, Brooke Metrione, said he would “carefully consider any bill the Legislature sends to his desk.”
The new rules in Montana will have more far-reaching effects than TikTok bans already in place on government-issued devices in nearly half the states and the U.S. federal government. There are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana as well as 6,000 businesses that use the video-sharing platform, according to company spokesperson Jamal Brown.
Montana’s first-of-its kind law that makes it illegal for residents to use TikTok in the state is already facing its first legal challenge with a lawsuit filed by five people who use the app and argue the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights.
Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it into law Wednesday expecting a legal fight would follow. The law, which isn’t scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, also faces a litany of questions over whether the state can even enforce the law.
The new rules in Montana will have more far-reaching effects than TikTok bans already in place on government-issued devices in nearly half the states and the U.S. federal government. There are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana as well as 6,000 businesses that use the video-sharing platform, according to company spokesperson Jamal Brown. Proponents of the law in Montana claim the Chinese government could harvest U.S. user data from TikTok and use the platform to push pro-Beijing misinformation or messages to the public.
That mirrors arguments made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate, as well as the heads of the FBI and the CIA, all of whom have said TikTok could pose a national security threat because its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance operates under Chinese law. Critics have pointed to China’s 2017 national intelligence law that compels companies to cooperate with the country’s governments for state intelligence work. Another Chinese law, implemented in 2014, has similar mandates. TikTok says it has never been asked to hand over its data, and it wouldn’t do so if asked.
Five plaintiffs who are all TikTok creators from Montana argue the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights. They also contend the state doesn’t have authority over matters of national security.
“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” the complaint said. The people suing include one with a swimwear business, one who connects with military veterans, one who shares videos about ranch life, another who shares her outdoor adventures and one who shares humorous videos.
Emily Flower, spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said the state expected a legal challenge and it is “fully prepared to defend the law.”
TikTok has argued that the law infringes on people’s First Amendment rights. But spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter declined to comment on the lawsuit and also declined to say whether the company helped coordinate the complaint filed by the TikTok content creators. The case could serve as a testing ground for the TikTok free America many national lawmakers have envisioned. The law will prohibit downloads of TikTok in the state and fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone accesses TikTok, “is offered the ability” to access it, or downloads it.
That means Apple and Google, which operate app stores on Apple and Android devices, would be liable for any violations. Penalties would not apply to users.
The statewide ban won’t take effect until January 2024. It would be void if the social media platform is sold to a company that is not based in “any country designated as a foreign adversary” by the federal government.