Montana on Wednesday became the first state to enact a total ban on sales and use of TikTok in the state, as Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation he said would “protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”
A spokesperson for the popular Chinese-owned app responded by accusing Gianforte of signing 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.”
A number of states and the federal government already have barred the Chinese-owned app from public agencies’ devices, citing national security concerns, but the legislation in Montana goes much further.
It imposes fines of $10,000 per day on any mobile store making the app available, and on TikTok itself if it operates the app within the state. Individual TikTok users are not subject to the fines. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Lawsuits challenging the ban seem likely. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a blistering statement accusing Gianforte of “flouting the First Amendment.”
TikTok said in its statement that “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.”
Gianforte had proposed amending the legislation to expand the ban to other social media apps with ties to “foreign adversaries,” but the legislature adjourned before taking them up. But Gianforte issued a separate order barring state agencies and government users on Wednesday from using a number of apps owned by Russian or Chinese companies, including Telegram, WeChat, CapCut and Temu.
That ban will take effect June 1.
“Together, we will defend the State of Montana and its people against threats to our security, privacy, and way of life,” Gianforte said.
That action could also face legal challenges. A U.S. magistrate in Northern California halted the Trump administration’s effort to ban WeChat, finding the ban would likely be declared unconstitutional.
Given widespread concerns on Capitol Hill and state houses nationwide about TikTok’s operations, Montana will serve as a closely watched test case over how far policymakers can go in banning operations of a private company. In March, a former risk manager at the company met with lawmakers to share concerns about flaws in the company’s plans for protecting user data.
The Trump administration tried but failed to force TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the app to an American buyer. The Biden administration is pushing a similar approach but may face similar hurdles.
President Biden has also thrown his support behind a bipartisan proposal that would have the Commerce Department study the issue.