Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Montana has become the first state to approve a bill that would ban TikTok over the possibility that the Chinese government could request Americans’ data from the wildly popular video streaming app.
Montana’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives sent the bill Friday to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who can now sign the measure into law.
The bill bans TikTok downloads in the state with penalties of up to $10,000 per day for any person, such as Apple and Google’s app stores or TikTok itself, making the popular video streaming app available.
If enacted, the ban in the state would not begin until January 2024.
A federal appeal from TikTok is expected long before then, likely leading to a legal tussle that supporters of the Montana law say could eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson for TikTok, said the bill’s backers acknowledged there was no “feasible plan” to implement the TikTok ban, as blocking app downloads in each individual state would be nearly impossible to enforce. Oberwetter said the bill amounts to censorship of Montanans’ voices.
“We will continue to fight for Montana TikTok users and creators whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this unprecedented government overreach,” Oberwetter said.
Other critics of the bill include the ACLU, which also called the move a violation of free speech rights that “would set a troubling precedent for excessive government control over how Montanans use the Internet.”
Still, supporters point to China’s 2017 intelligence law, which requires private companies to hand over customer data to the government if Beijing ever requests such information. This is despite TikTok’s pushback that it would never comply with such a request.
However, the bill states that if TikTok is sold to a company that is not in an opposing nation, the ban will cease to apply. A bill in Congress that would lead to a nationwide ban on TikTok would also nullify the measure.
The aggressive crackdown on TikTok in Montana comes as the Biden administration continues to negotiate with the company over its future in the U.S. Last month, White House officials told TikTok to divest its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance or risk being shut down in the whole country.
Congress also has TikTok in its crosshairs. A bill that has gained bipartisan momentum would give the Commerce Department the ability to ban apps controlled by “foreign adversaries,” a label that could be applied to TikTok.
In both states including Montana and Washington, D.C., lawmakers view TikTok as a potential national security threat.
Because TikTok is owned by ByteDance, there are concerns that the Chinese Communist Party could demand access to the 150 million TikTok accounts in America and potentially spy on American citizens or use the personal data to mount disinformation campaigns on the app.
Although concerns have grown louder in recent months, there is no publicly available evidence to suggest that Chinese officials have ever tried to hack into TikTok’s data.
Last month, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced tiresome questions from lawmakers in Washington as he tried to assuage bipartisan fears about the social media app.
Most lawmakers said testimony by Chu, who has at times been evasive on China issues, was unconvincing and only served to further harden their anti-TikTok positions.
The Trump administration tried to shut down TikTok in the US over the same national security concerns. But federal courts halted the move, citing executive overreach and a lack of evidence to support the claim that TikTok posed a security risk.