What just happened? There’s been plenty of talk about TikTok getting banned in the United States, but the most that’s happened is the app being prohibited from government workers’ devices – until now. The state of Montana has become the first to ban TikTok for all its residents.
On Wednesday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill prohibiting mobile app stores from offering TikTok. The law comes into effect in January next year, after which point any “entity,” including TikTok, that offers the ability to access the platform or download the app will risk fines of up to $10,000 per day.
The penalties do not apply to users, so you won’t have to delete TikTok if it’s already on your device, and sideloading it or using a VPN won’t get you fined.
The governor said the move was to protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.
To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana.
– Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) May 17, 2023
CNN writes that the bill was passed in Montana’s House of Representatives by a vote of 45-43.
TikTok’s alleged ties with the Chinese government, which it has repeatedly denied, have led to the federal government and more than half of US states banning it from government worker’s devices; the EU commission took similar action this year.
In March, the Biden administration gave TikTok an ultimatum: owner ByteDance had to sell the company to someone outside of China or be banned in the US.
Last year, FBI director Christopher Wray said TikTok could be China’s best espionage tool. He added that Beijing authorities could manipulate content and use it for influence operations.
In a statement, TikTok said that “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. 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.”
It sounds as if TikTok is ready to launch a legal battle against Montana over the ban. If it does, the company could have the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said, “Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans” in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment. “We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana.
Additionally, trade group NetChoice, whose members include Google and TikTok, called the bill unconstitutional. “This is a clear violation of the constitution, which prohibits the government from blocking Americans from accessing constitutionally-protected speech online via websites or apps,” said Carl Szabo, the group’s vice president and general counsel.