Montana becomes first U.S. state to ban TikTok citing national security concerns


Montana Governor Greg Gianfortesigned a historic legislation on Wednesday, effectively banning the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from operating within the state. The move aims to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China, making Montana the first state in the United States to take such action against the popular short video app.

Under the new law, it will be illegal for Google and Apple’s app stores to offer TikTok within Montana’s borders. However, no penalties will be imposed on individuals who continue to use the app. The ban is set to take effect on January 1, 2024, but it is expected to face legal challenges in the coming months.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, did not respond to inquiries about potential legal actions in response to the ban. Previously, the company released a statement asserting that the law infringed upon the First Amendment rights of Montana residents and pledged to continue defending the rights of its users both inside and outside the state.

The decision to ban TikTok in Montana comes amid mounting concerns among U.S. lawmakers and state officials regarding potential Chinese government influence over the platform. With over 150 million American users, TikTok has become incredibly popular, particularly among teenagers. A Pew Research Center study revealed that 67% of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 use TikTok, with 16% of all teens reporting near-constant usage. TikTok has emphasized that the majority of its users are over the age of 18.

In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced questioning from a congressional committee regarding user data security and potential Chinese government access to the platform. However, nationwide bans or enhanced regulatory powers over TikTok have yet to gain traction in Congress.

Governor Gianforte, a Republican, championed the new legislation as a means to safeguard Montanans from surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party. According to the law, TikTok could face fines for each violation, while Apple and Google may also incur fines of $10,000 per violation, per day if they fail to comply with the ban.

Civil liberties groups and lawmakers rally against Montana’s TikTok ban, citing free speech concerns

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) promptly criticized the law, branding it unconstitutional. The ACLU highlighted that unless the courts intervene, the ban will go into effect on January 1. Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, condemned the law for infringing on the free speech rights of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use TikTok for self-expression, information gathering, and running small businesses.

Former President Donald Trump‘s attempt to ban TikTok and WeChat downloads through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was ultimately blocked by multiple courts and did not materialize.

TikTok has found support among several Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as First Amendment groups such as the ACLU. Industry group NetChoice‘s general counsel, Carl Szabo, also denounced the law, emphasizing that the government cannot impede access to constitutionally protected speech, regardless of the medium.

Governor Gianforte had initially sought to expand the ban to include other social media applications that share certain data with foreign adversaries. Additionally, the legislation prohibits the use of any social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on state government-issued devices. Meanwhile, TikTok is actively working on “Project Texas,” an initiative that aims to establish a separate entity storing American user data on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle within the United States.

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