In a surprising move, the state of Montana may soon become the first state in the US to ban the popular social media app TikTok completely. The state legislature just passed a bill that would make it illegal to use TikTok on any government-owned device. The governor still needs to sign it. Concerns about data privacy and national security are mentioned in the bill, which is similar to what other government officials have said in recent months.
If the bill becomes law, Montana would be the first state to take such a strong stand against the app, which has become a worldwide phenomenon among young people. As the debate over TikTok’s safety and possible risks continues, many people are watching to see how this bold move by Montana will be received and if other states will follow suit in the future.
Montana Close to Becoming 1st State to Completely Ban Tiktok
The Montana legislature took a step toward passing a bill on Thursday that would forbid TikTok from operating there. While this move is sure to face legal challenges, it would also serve as a trial run for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned.
The proposal in Montana, which has the support of the state’s GOP-controlled legislature, is more comprehensive than the restrictions on TikTok that are in place in nearly half the states and the federal government of the United States.
On Thursday, the House approved the bill 60-39. Before sending the bill to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte, the House will probably vote one last time on Friday. In Montana, he has outlawed TikTok on official devices. In March, the Senate approved the measure 30-20.
The Chinese tech company ByteDance’s TikTok has come under close scrutiny due to worries that it may provide user data to the Chinese government or disseminate propaganda and false information in favor of Beijing on the platform. However, none of the leaders at the FBI, CIA, or numerous lawmakers from both parties have offered any proof to support their claims.
Supporters of a ban cite two Chinese laws that require businesses operating there to assist the government in conducting state intelligence operations. They also draw attention to other troubling incidents, such as ByteDance’s December disclosure that it had terminated four employees for accessing the IP addresses and other personal information of two journalists in an effort to determine the source of a leaked report about the company.
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Though it doesn’t specifically mention TikTok, the proposed legislation would grant the Commerce Department the authority to limit foreign threats on tech platforms. Although the White House supports that bill, privacy advocates, right-wing commentators, and others have opposed it, arguing that the language is too broad.
Austin Knudsen, the attorney general of Montana, urged state legislators to approve the measure because he doubted that Congress would swiftly enact a federal ban. Republican Knudsen told a House committee in March that Montana had a chance to take the lead. He claims that the app is a device the Chinese government uses to spy on residents of Montana.
The ban in Montana wouldn’t go into effect until January 2024 and would be nullified if Congress passed a similar measure or if TikTok severed its ties to China. The bill would make it illegal to download TikTok in Montana and fine any “entity”—such as an app store or TikTok—$10,000 every day for each occasion when a user “is offered the ability” to access the social media site or download the app. Users would not be subject to the penalties.
The proposed ban, according to opponents, could be easily avoided by residents by using a Virtual Private Network, and the bill amounted to government overreach. A VPN encrypts internet traffic, making it more challenging for hackers to steal data, track online activities, and pinpoint a person’s location.
A TechNet representative claimed that app stores “do not have the ability to geofence” apps on a state-by-state basis and that it would be impossible for its members Apple and Google to stop TikTok from being downloaded in Montana at a hearing for the bill in March.
The geofencing technology, according to Knudsen, is used with online sports betting apps, which are turned off in jurisdictions where online gambling is prohibited. In a statement released on Thursday, Ashley Sutton, TechNet’s executive director for Washington State and the Northwest, stated that “it should be up to an app to decide where it can operate, not an app store.”
“We have brought up these issues with lawmakers. To ensure that businesses that aren’t the legislation’s intended targets” aren’t impacted, we hope the governor will collaborate with lawmakers to amend the law.
In a statement,
TikTok promised to “continue fighting for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”
The state wasn’t attempting to outlaw other social media apps that gather comparable types of user data, according to some bill opponents. According to Keegan Medrano with the ACLU of Montana, “We also believe this is a blatant exercise of censorship and is an egregious violation of Montanans’ free speech rights.”
On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Katie Sullivan proposed an amendment to extend the ban to cover all social media applications that gathered user data and sent it, in addition to China, to countries like Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela. At 48 to 51, the amendment was barely defeated.
The bill’s proponents argued that targeting TikTok first made sense due to specific concerns with China and that it was still a positive step even though it doesn’t address issues with other social media companies. TikTok has been fighting the legislation.
Users in the state have been urged to speak out against the bill by the company, which has 150 million users in the U.S., and lobbyists have also been hired to help them. In addition, it has bought billboards, published full-page newspaper ads, and launched a website that is opposed to Montana’s legislation. Some newspaper advertisements highlight how nearby companies used the app to boost sales.
The bill would “show Montana doesn’t support entrepreneurs in our own state,” White Bear Moccasins owner Shauna White Bear said at a hearing on March 28. She pointed out that compared to other social media platforms, TikTok has a lot more engagement for her company. Knudsen, the attorney general whose office wrote the bill, predicted that if it is passed, it will be challenged in court.
Frankly, he said,
I think the courts need to get involved here.” This is a really intriguing, new legal issue that, in my opinion, calls for fresh jurisprudence.
The company has previously faced other broad bans in addition to the Montana bill. TikTok and the Chinese messaging app WeChat were prohibited by executive orders that were issued by then-President Donald Trump in 2020. The courts rejected those attempts, and the Biden administration put them on hold.
TikTok and the administration persisted in their discussions regarding the app’s security issues. The Biden administration has recently threatened to ban the app if the company’s Chinese owners don’t sell their shares amid rising geopolitical tensions with China. TikTok has been attempting to sell a data security plan called “Project Texas” that would send all of its user data from the United States to servers run by the software behemoth Oracle in order to prevent either situation.