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Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok completely; Chinese app says it violates people's rights

The move was taken as part of efforts by the US to crack down on the ByteDance-run app, citing security concerns.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal Washington Published on: May 18, 2023 9:58 IST
Montana, TikTok
Image Source : AP Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok

TikTok ban: Montana became the first state in the US state to ban the popular short video app TikTok. To enact a complete ban on Chinese-owned TikTok Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday (loacal time) signed legislation to curtail the social media app. The move was taken as part of efforts by the US to crackdown on the Bytedance-run app citing security concerns.

Montana will make it unlawful for Google and Apple's app stores to offer TikTok within the state, but will not impose any penalties on individuals using the app. However, if the app stores found to host the social media application, a fine of $10,000 per day will be imposed.

Ban to effect from Jan 2024

The ban is to take effect from January 1, 2024, and  is expected to be challenged legally and will serve as a testing ground for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned. Cybersecurity experts say it could be difficult to enforce the ban.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday (local time), the Republican Governor Greg Gianforte announced the ban on TikTok in Montana saying that it is done to protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.

“TikTok is just one app tied to foreign adversaries. Today I directed the state’s Chief Information Officer to ban any application that provides personal information or data to foreign adversaries from the state network,” he said. “To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana. I have issued a disaster declaration to support communities impacted by flooding in northeast, western, and south central Montana,” he added.

'Action to protect  Montanans’ private data'

“Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” Gianforte said in a statement.

When Montana banned the app on government-owned devices in late December, Gianforte said TikTok posed a “significant risk” to sensitive state data. More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have a similar ban.

On Wednesday, Gianforte also announced he was prohibiting the use of all social media applications tied to foreign adversaries on state equipment and for state businesses in Montana effective on June 1. Among the apps he listed are WeChat, whose parent company is headquartered in China; and Telegram Messenger, which was founded in Russia.

The legislation, drafted by the attorney general’s office, easily passed through Montana’s GOP-controlled Legislature.

Gianforte had wanted to expand the TikTok bill to include apps tied to foreign adversaries, but lawmakers did not send him the bill until after the session ended this month, preventing him from offering any amendments.

Montana’s new law prohibits downloads of TikTok in the state and would fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

Some lawmakers, the FBI and officials at other agencies are concerned the video-sharing app, owned by ByteDance, could be used to allow the Chinese government to access information on American citizens or push pro-Beijing misinformation that could influence the public. TikTok says none of this has ever happened.

Earlier, a former executive at ByteDance alleged that the tech giant is serving as a “propaganda tool” for the Chinese government, a claim which was denied by ByteDance calling it baseless.

TikTok on ban

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter argued that the law infringes on people’s First Amendment rights and is unlawful. She declined to say whether the company will file a lawsuit. “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,” Oberwetter said in a statement.

Oberwetter declined to say if the company will file a lawsuit but described some of the legal issues at play. She argued Montana is attempting to override U.S. foreign policy by claiming the bill addresses a national security risk. She said foreign policy and national security laws are not made at the state level.

NetChoice, a trade group that represents TikTok and other tech companies, says the bill would violate the First Amendment and “bill of attainder” laws that prohibit the government from imposing a punishment on a specific entity without a formal trial.

TikTok ban in other countries 

The US is not the only country that has banned or is mulling to ban TikTok. In the past two-three years, several countries have banned the Chinese app over security concerns.

Several other countries including India, Pakistan, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, European Union, France, Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway had earlier banned the Chinese app. 

TikTok has over 150 million American users. The app is wildly popular among teens. 67 per cent of US teens ages 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16% of all teens say they use the app almost constantly. TikTok has said that the "vast majority" of its users are over the age of 18, Reuters quoted the Pew Research Center as saying.

The talk to ban TikTok has been around since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump attempted to bar the company from operating in the US through an executive order that was halted in federal courts. President Joe Biden’s administration initially shelved those plans, but more recently threatened to ban the app if the company’s Chinese owners don’t sell their stakes.

(With AP inputs)

Also Read: TikTok still has Indian users’ data, and it could be dangerous: Know-why?

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