Montana is the first US state to ban TikTok for its citizens

Credit: John Kakuk

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) has signed legislation banning Chinese company TikTok from operating in the state. It is the first state to enact a ban on private individuals – and is expected to see First Amendment litigation.

The legislation would make it unlawful for Google or Apple mobile app stores to offer Montana residents TikTok for download. However, no penalties will be imposed on people who use TikTok within state lines or reside within the state and access TikTok services. The ban is expected to come into effect on January 1, 2024, barring legal opposition – which is highly unlikely.

TikTok itself invoked the rights of the American constitutional amendment in its backlash against the legislation. According to TikTok, the new law “violates the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.” The company says it will continue to defend the rights of its Montana users and seek to take the legislation all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary to contest

Chinese ownership of TikTok has raised serious concerns from US officials, particularly FBI Director Christopher Wray. He has highlighted how the app’s algorithms can be used to suppress content that China wants to hide (e.g. crackdown on Hong Kong protesters) or to spread content to specific regions (Tide Pods challenges). The company has repeatedly denied that ByteDance employees can access US TikTok user data, but multiple reports suggest the opposite.

Both BuzzFeed News and Forbes interviewed people familiar with the inner workings of TikTok and confirmed that ByteDance employees could access US user data. A new lawsuit filed in San Francisco also alleges that a senior US engineer was aware of backdoors that allowed ByteDance to access all TikTok data.

Montana has a population of just over a million people. TikTok will do it threaten fines for each violation and additional files of $10,000 per day if the prohibition is violated as written. Apple and Google could also be fined $10,000 a day if they continue to make TikTok available for Montana residents to download after Jan. 1.

“With this ban, Gov. 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 Montana ACLU called about the ban.