Montana Governor Bans TikTok in the State

Montana Governor Bans TikTok in the State

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill into law on Wednesday banning TikTok from operating within the state. This is the most extreme ban on the app in the country and one that will almost certainly be challenged in court. The ban comes into effect on January 1st.

“Today, Montana is taking the strongest measures of any state to protect the private data and sensitive personal information of Montana residents from exploitation by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Mr. Gianforte, a Republican, in a press release.

The Montana legislature introduced the bill in February, which sparked months of debate. The proposal, which would affect everyday users of the popular short-video app, significantly compounded a nationwide push to ban TikTok on government devices amid concerns over the company’s ownership of Chinese company ByteDance. The dispute over the bill offered a taste of what the United States could face nationally if lawmakers or the White House attempted to impose a statewide ban on TikTok, which has come into effect in recent months.

TikTok, which claims to have 7,000 employees in the United States, has been fighting back in the state for months. It has run ads showcasing small Montana businesses using TikTok and sent canned emails to users so they can contact Mr Gianforte to oppose the bill.

The law prohibits mobile app stores, such as those operated by Apple and Google, from offering TikTok within the state. A trade group funded by Apple and Google said in recent months that it was impossible for companies to block access to TikTok in a single state.

“Governor Gianforte signed legislation that violates 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 Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, in a statement On Wednesday. Montaners, she added, can continue to use the app “while we continue to work to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

Under the legislation, TikTok could face fines if it continues to operate in the state, as could Apple and Google if they allow people to download the app.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Montana fight erupted amid intense national scrutiny of TikTok, which has more than 150 million US users. Lawmakers and intelligence officials said that TikTok’s ownership could put sensitive user data in the hands of the Chinese government, citing laws that allow Beijing to secretly solicit data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence gathering.

They also raised concerns that the app, which is popular among teenagers and people in their 20s, could be used to spread propaganda. Congress questioned TikTok CEO Shou Chew for about five hours at a hearing in March focused on the app’s Chinese owners.

TikTok says it has never been asked to provide US user data to the Chinese government, nor has it done so. The company has proposed a detailed plan for operations in the United States, which it says should allay national security concerns and fears of misinformation. However, the plan has yet to be approved by the Biden administration, leaving TikTok and its future in limbo.

Free speech groups responded quickly to the Montana ban. The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the legislation “contradicts the First Amendment.”

“The government cannot impose a total ban on a communications platform like TikTok unless it is necessary to prevent extremely serious, immediate harm to national security,” the group said in a statement. “But there is no public evidence of harm that meets the high standards of the US and Montana constitutions, and a total ban would not be the only way to counteract such harm, if it existed.”

The Montana bill says the ban will be void if TikTok is acquired by or sold to a company not incorporated in a country that is “designated as a foreign adversary.”

David McCabe contributed reporting.