Federal judge temporarily halts Montana’s state-wide TikTok ban

December 1, 2023

A Federal judge on Thursday granted TikTok and its users’ bid to block a new law that would ban the app statewide in Montana.

Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation in May that made Montana the first state in the U.S. to impose a total ban on TikTok, though more than a dozen other states, Congress and the White House have taken actions to ban the app on government devices.

The restrictions began after FBI Director Chris Wray in November 2022 warned that the Chinese government could use the video sharing app to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations.

TikTik is owned by the China-based tech giant ByteDance.

Upon signing the state-wide ban Gianforte said the law, which wasn’t to take effect until January 1, would protect Montana residents’ private data and personal information from being harvested by the Chinese government.

But on the same day that the law was signed a handful of TikTok content creators filed a lawsuit aiming to overturn the ban, asserting that Montana’s “extraordinary and unprecedented measures [are] based on nothing more than unfounded speculation.”

On Thursday Judge Donald Molloy of the United States District Court for the District of Montana explained why he issued his preliminary injunction against the ban, stating among other reasons that the state of Montana had failed to show how the original bill, SB 419, would be “constitutionally permissible.”

“Despite the State’s attempt to defend SB 419 as a consumer protection bill, the current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers,” Molloy wrote in the filing. “This is especially apparent in that the same legislature enacted an entirely separate law that purports to broadly protect consumers’ digital data and privacy.”

While TikTok said in a statement that it’s “pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law,” the office of the Montana Attorney General noted that the injunction is “a preliminary matter at this point.”

“We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data,” the state Attorney General’s office added.

TikTok reportedly has more than 1 billion monthly active users in more than 150 countries worldwide, including a reported 150 million users in the U.S.

According to Pew Research from April, 67% of American teenagers use TikTok, with 16% of those teens saying they use the app almost constantly.

And just last month, Pew found that a growing number of adults under 30 now regularly get their news on TikTok—roughly one in three.

Read more exclusive news from Political IQ.

 

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