Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok over Chinese surveillance fears
Montana becomes the first US state to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok app, with Governor Greg Gianforte signing legislation that prohibits Google and Apple’s app stores from offering it within the state’s borders. The ban is set to take effect on January 1, 2024. TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, has faced increasing calls for a nationwide ban due to concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.
In March, a congressional committee questioned TikTok Chief Executive Chew Shou Zi about the possibility of the Chinese government accessing user data or influencing the content Americans see on the app. Governor Gianforte, a Republican, stated that the bill supports the shared priority of protecting Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, responded in a statement that the bill “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and vowed to “defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.” The company has previously denied sharing data with the Chinese government and said it would not do so if asked.
Montana, with a population of just over one million people, warned that TikTok could face fines for each violation, along with additional fines of US$10,000 per day if they violate the ban. Apple and Google could also face similar fines if they breach the ban.
The ban is expected to face numerous legal challenges on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of users. An attempt by former President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.
TikTok’s free speech allies include several Democratic members of Congress, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. Governor Gianforte also prohibited the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices.
TikTok is currently working on an initiative called Project Texas, which aims to create a standalone entity to store American user data in the US on servers operated by US tech company Oracle, reports Channel News Asia.
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