Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation on Wednesday prohibiting Chinese-owned TikTok from functioning in the state in order to safeguard residents from alleged Chinese intelligence collection, becoming Montana the first U.S. state to do so.
Montana will make it illegal for Google and Apple’s app shops to sell TikTok in the state, but will not penalise users who use the software. The prohibition is set to go into force on January 1, 2024, and it is almost guaranteed to encounter judicial challenges.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, did not respond to a Reuters inquiry about legal action.
TikTok previously made a statement claiming that the new law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and promising to “continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, has faced increasing requests from lawmakers and state officials in the United States to ban the app statewide due to worries about potential Chinese government influence over the network.
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The software has grown quite popular among teenagers. According to the Pew Research Centre, 67% of 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States use TikTok, while 16% of all teens use the app fairly daily. According to TikTok, the “vast majority” of its users are over the age of 18.
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was interrogated by a congressional committee about whether the Chinese government could access user data or affect what Americans saw on the platform. However, efforts to prohibit TikTok nationwide or to give the Biden administration greater powers to crack down on or ban TikTok have failed to gain traction in Congress.
Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte said the law will further “our shared priority of protecting Montanans from Chinese Communism Party surveillance.”
TikTok has constantly denied sharing data with the Chinese government and has stated that it would not do so if requested.
FREE SPEECH IS “TRAMPLED”
TikTok may face fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the restriction in Montana, which has a population of little more than 1 million people.
The short video app is available in the app stores of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Google smartphones. If Apple and Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), break the restriction, they might face fines of $10,000 per infraction, per day.
Apple and Google did not react quickly to calls for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the measure “unconstitutional,” noting that it will take effect on January 1 if the courts do not intervene.
“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 businesses in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” the ACLU of Montana’s policy director, Keegan Medrano, said in a statement.
Former President Donald Trump’s effort to restrict new TikTok and WeChat downloads through a Commerce Department directive in 2020 was stopped by numerous courts and never went into force.
Several Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union are among TikTok’s free speech supporters.
Carl Szabo, general counsel for the industry association NetChoice, also criticised the new regulation. “The government may not obstruct our ability to access constitutionally protected speech – whether in a newspaper, on a website, or through an app,” he said in a statement, adding that Montana “ignores the United States Constitution, due process, and free speech.”
Gianforte, who had attempted to persuade the state legislature to broaden the ban to include other social media apps that provide specific data to foreign adversaries, also prohibited the use of all social media apps that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on state government-issued devices.
TikTok is working on Project Texas, which would form a separate corporation to keep American user data in the United States on servers run by the American tech firm Oracle (ORCL.N).