Montana Becomes First US State To Ban TikTok

On Wednesday, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation to ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state. The move was intended to protect residents from potential surveillance by China, but raises important questions about the right to free speech.

As the first U.S state to ban the app, Montana will make it illegal for Google and Apple’s app stores to offer TikTok within the state, but will not impose any penalties on individuals using the app. The ban is to take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

TikTok have responded to the ruling by issuing a statement stating that the law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and said it will “continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The app has come under widespread criticism from U.S lawmakers, who are lobbying to ban the app nationwide over worries it may be linked to the Chinese government. With over 150 Americans on the app, concerns about user data are important, but banning the app entirely is a bold move.

In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about whether the Chinese government could access user data and influence what users see on the app. If this were true, then a big chunk of America’s young population could be shown Chinese propaganda and fake news. However calls to ban TikTok nationwide have not yet made their way into congress.

TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.

According to Reuters, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) slammed the law as “unconstitutional” and noted that it will go into effect on Jan. 1 if the courts do not act.

“With this ban, Governor 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,” Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement.

It is believed that TikTok is working on an initiative called “Project Texas”, which will create a standalone entity to store American user data in the U.S. on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle (ORCL.N). This should help to alleviate worries about data sharing with the Chinese government, but we’re yet to see how it will affect congressional opinion.