Federal Judge Blocks Montana’s Ban on TikTok

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
November 30, 2023Judiciary
Federal Judge Blocks Montana’s Ban on TikTok
The icon for the video sharing TikTok app is seen on a smartphone on Feb. 28, 2023. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

A federal judge on Thursday blocked Montana’s ban on TikTok, finding it to be unconstitutional and “more interested in targeting China’s role” in the app than protecting consumers.

In his preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said that Senate Bill 419, signed into law in May, “oversteps state power and infringes on the constitutional rights of users and businesses.”

Montana became the first U.S. state to impose a complete ban on TikTok amid concerns raised by the FBI and Congress that the Chinese-owned company posed a security and privacy risk to Americans because a user’s personal data could be shared with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The headquarters of ByteDance, the owner and operator of TikTok, was based in Beijing before moving to Singapore in 2020.

Signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on May 17, the ban was due to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

In his order, Judge Molloy wrote: “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.

“This is especially apparent in that the same legislature enacted an entirely separate law that purports to broadly protect consumers’ digital data and privacy,” he continued. “In showing its foreign affairs hand, the state has identified the Achilles’ heel of SB 419.”

Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, told The Epoch Times in a statement: “This is a preliminary matter at this point.”

“The judge indicated several times that the analysis could change as the case proceeds and the State has the opportunity to present a full factual record,” she continued. “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.”

A TikTok spokesperson told CBS News the company is “pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law,” with the result allowing Montanans to “continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok.”

Court documents note that TikTok users in Montana utilize the app to market their businesses and generate revenue. Samantha Alario, a plaintiff, sells swimwear online and uses TikTok for marketing. Carly Ann Goddard, a rancher, generates revenue by sharing her lifestyle with her 101,000 followers. The ban would irreparably harm them, per the preliminary injunction.

TikTok has over 150 million American users, according to IP data. TikTok has said that the “vast majority” of its users are over the age of 18. The app is also wildly popular among teenagers, with the Pew Research Center saying 67 percent of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 use TikTok, 16 percent of whom indicate they use the app almost constantly.

In May, upon signing the bill, Mr. Gianforte said that it’s well-documented that the CCP is “using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information.”

The governor has said he sought to ban TikTok in a bid to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the CCP.

However, the judge said in his order that while “there may be a public interest in protecting Montana consumers, the state has not shown how this TikTok bill does that.”

If enacted, the ban would have meant that TikTok cannot operate at all within Montana.

The Montana Department of Justice would be empowered to fine any “entity,” such as an app store, $10,000 per day if they were found responsible for giving anyone access to the app. Users wouldn’t face any penalties.

Apple and Google would also be banned from offering the app for download in the state.

TikTok has already been prohibited from U.S. federal government devices and networks, including in Montana. In 2022, Mr. Gianforte similarly outlawed the app from state government devices as well, citing “grave security concerns” and that the use of TikTok on state devices posed a “significant risk” to sensitive state data.

Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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