A federal judge has blocked Montana’s first-in-the-nation law that sought to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok in the state. The decision, made a month before the law was scheduled to take effect, was based on the judge’s assertion that the measure is unconstitutional.
The ruling stands as a temporary victory for TikTok, which has argued that the Montana Legislature, controlled by Republicans, went too far in attempting to regulate the app. The judge, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, emphasized that the ban exceeded state powers and violated the constitutional rights of users and businesses. He pointed out the state’s apparent focus on Chinese influence rather than genuine consumer protection.
In his decision to grant a preliminary injunction, Molloy stated, “Despite the state’s attempt to defend (the law) 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.”
Montana had passed the law in May, becoming the first state in the U.S. to implement a complete ban on TikTok. The rationale behind the ban was the concern that the Chinese government could access user information through TikTok, whose parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing. The law was set to take effect on January 1, 2023.
The ban aimed to prevent TikTok downloads in the state and imposed a $10,000 per day fine on entities, such as app stores or TikTok itself, for each instance where someone had the opportunity to access or download the app. Users, however, would not face penalties.
TikTok welcomed the judge’s decision, with spokesperson Jamal Brown expressing satisfaction that “the judge rejected this unconstitutional law, and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok.”
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office downplayed the significance of the ruling, stating that the analysis could change as the case progresses. The state contends that the law is necessary to protect Montanans from potential data misuse by the Chinese Communist Party.
Governments in the West have raised concerns about TikTok potentially compromising sensitive data or being exploited for spreading misinformation, given Chinese laws that allow government intervention in private companies. While more than half of U.S. states and the federal government have banned TikTok on official devices, TikTok has argued that such actions are political theater and unnecessary.
The judge acknowledged the core of the controversy lies in the extent to which China controls TikTok and has access to user data. The legal battle will continue, with a final ruling expected as the case progresses through the courts.
Featured Image: Unsplash @ Solen Feyissa