Montana bans TikTok, but implementing the law could be challenging
Montana has officially become the first state in the country to ban TikTok after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law on Wednesday, May 17. The law is set to take effect in January 2024 and is already facing legal challenges.
“To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana,” wrote Gianforte on Twitter.
The ban was quickly criticized by the ACLU amid concerns that the bill infringes on First Amendment rights.
“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana. “We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”
The governor’s office claimed in a news release about the ban that “penalties will be enforced by the Montana Department of Justice,” and that anyone in violation of the law is liable to pay $10,000 per violation, and also liable for an additional $10,000 each day the violation continues, according to the text of S.B. 419.
“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” said TikTok in a statement provided to CBS News. “We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
Last month, Montana became the first state to pass a bill banning the app — which raised concerns from technology experts about how realistic expectations were around enforcement.
At a hearing about the bill in March, a representative from TechNet said that app stores “do not have the ability to geofence” apps on a state-by-state basis, making it impossible for the restriction to be enforceable in popular app marketplaces, such as the Apple App Store or the Google Play App Store.
Some have also argued that banning the app may infringe users’ First Amendment rights. “Montanans are indisputably exercising their First Amendment rights when they post and consume content on TikTok,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, in a statement. “Because Montana can’t establish that the ban is necessary or tailored to any legitimate interest, the law is almost certain to be struck down as unconstitutional.”
In March, Gianforte banned TikTok from government devices in Montana, joining the Biden administration, which also banned the platform from all federal employee devices.
Why is TikTok being banned?
TikTok has been an ongoing subject of debate in both local and federal government, as concerns mount in several areas, such as the potential for TikTok to be addicting to younger users and the ability for people to use the app to spread misinformation or incite violence. While these are concerns for other major social media platforms as well, what makes TikTok particularly alarming to government officials are privacy issues related to the app’s ownership by China-based ByteDance.
Like all Chinese companies, ByteDance has ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and as tensions continue to mount between the U.S. and China, access to user data has become a point of uneasiness for Congress, the Biden administration, and state and local governments. Many now see banning the platform as a simple solution.
TikTok has repeatedly denied that it shares any data with the Chinese government.
Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, has told CBS News that lawmakers’ concerns over TikTok sharing user data with the Chinese government are overstated and “makes for good politics.” He also said that TikTok collects less data than other social media apps and is working to move user data to servers in the U.S., out of reach of China.
Some experts agree that national security concerns over TikTok are unfounded.
Milton Mueller, a professor of cybersecurity and public policy at Georgia Tech, previously told CBS News, “There have been three technical studies done of this. They basically all say it is exactly what they tell you it is in their privacy statement.”
What comes next?
A group of TikTok users in Montana on Wednesday, May 17, filed the first challenge to the law in U.S. District Court in Montana. They alleged that the state’s ban on the app infringes on their constitutional right to freedom of speech.
“The Act attempts to exercise powers over national security that Montana does not have and to ban speech Montana may not suppress,” read the complaint, which was filed by five content creators.
“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 lawsuit continued.
TikTok has declined to comment on the suit and has not yet announced its own challenge to the law.