Montana Set to Be First US State to Completely Ban TikTok After Bill Passes Legislature

Montana Set to Be First US State to Completely Ban TikTok After Bill Passes Legislature
The TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken on Aug. 22, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Montana lawmakers voted on April 14 to ban TikTok, a popular Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk for his consideration.

Lawmakers in the Republican-led state House voted 54–43 to give final approval to the legislation. If the measure is signed, Montana will become the first U.S. state to impose a complete ban on the platform.

The legislation prohibits downloads of TikTok in Montana and would fine any “entity” such as an app store $10,000 per day that anyone has access to the app. Users wouldn’t face any penalties. If signed, the law would take effect in January 2024, unless Congress passes a national law overriding it or TikTok cuts its ties with China.

A representative from the tech trade group TechNet told state lawmakers that because app stores don’t have the ability to geofence apps on a state-by-state basis, the Apple App Store and Google Play Store wouldn’t be able to adhere to the law if it takes effect.

Ashley Sutton, TechNet’s executive director for Washington state and the Northwest, said on April 13 that the “responsibility should be on an app to determine where it can operate, not an app store.”

But Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has said that apps for online gambling can be disabled in states that don’t allow it, so the same should be possible for TikTok.

Knudsen, whose office drafted the state’s legislation, wrote on Twitter on April 14 that the bill “is a critical step to ensuring we are protecting Montanans’ privacy,” even as he acknowledged that a court battle looms.

TikTok Threatens Lawsuit

Nearly half of U.S. states, Montana included, and the U.S. federal government, already prohibit TikTok on government-owned devices and networks.

TikTok is owned and operated by ByteDance, a Chinese company based in Beijing, but moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.

Gianforte last year banned the app on state government devices, citing “grave security concerns” and that the use of TikTok on state devices posed a “significant risk” to sensitive state data.

TikTok “harvests expansive amounts of data from its users’ devices, much of which is unrelated to the app’s purported objective of video sharing, and offers this information to the Chinese Communist Party,” Gianforte wrote in a December 2022 memo to some state officials.

The governor declined to say on April 14 whether he plans to sign the legislation. Gianforte “will carefully consider” all bills the Legislature sends to his desk, according to a statement from spokesperson Brooke Metrione.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said a legal challenge over the measure’s constitutionality would follow if the bill is passed, calling the legislation an “attempt to censor American voices.”

The company “will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach,” Oberwetter said.

National Security Concerns

The FBI and Federal Communications Commission warned in 2022 of possible threats TikTok poses to U.S. national security, including that user data obtained by the app—such as browsing history and location—could be shared with the authoritarian Chinese regime. Concerns were heightened in late 2022 amid media reports that staff of ByteDance used the company’s access to TikTok user data to improperly track U.S. journalists.

Although TikTok once said that all U.S. user data is stored within the United States, it has also since admitted that this wasn’t true. In a September 2022 congressional hearing, TikTok executives refused to commit to stopping the flow of U.S. data to China.

“We believe the concerns driving these bans are largely fueled by misinformation about our company,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement in December 2022. “We are always happy to meet with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices. We are disappointed that the many state agencies, offices, and universities that have been using TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents will no longer have access to our platform.”
TikTok rose in popularity in the United States in 2017 after ByteDance acquired Chinese-owned social media company and paired its Santa Monica office with TikTok. At the time, TikTok didn’t inform U.S. officials about the–TikTok merger despite both companies’ ties to China, independent investigative journalist Geoffrey Cain said on EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders.”
Casey Fleming, a cybersecurity expert and CEO of strategic advisory firm BlackOps Partners, previously told The Epoch Times, “All of your data on that phone, everything you do, and everything that you have stored on your phone is being sent out of the country, possibly to be used against you.”
In addition to national security concerns, many have raised concerns about TikTok’s content and its potential harm to the mental health of adolescents. In December 2022, the state of Indiana filed two lawsuits accusing TikTok of sending user data to the CCP and also of falsely claiming that its product was safe for children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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