On Wednesday, May 17, the U.S. state of Montana became the first to ban the popular application known as TikTok. The discourse and history surrounding the banning of TikTok dates back to 2020 under the presidency of Donald Trump. However, the Trump Administration’s ban fell through due to free speech concerns.
While this discussion of TikTok remained fairly consistent throughout the years since, it picked up traction following a congressional hearing this past March. TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, testified before a House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding the safety of American data and children from online threats. However, as highlighted by The New York Times, the banning of TikTok simplifies down to the topic of the U.S.’s rocky relationship with China. Tiktok’s parent company, ByteDance, raises concerns to those in the West for its possibility of user data leakage to the Chinese government, which loomed at the threat of a nationwide ban of the app. It is this reason that largely impacts the Montana governor’s decision to ban TikTok.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Montana Assembly Bill 419, which prohibits “a mobile application store from offering the TikTok application to Montana users.” The Bill will go into effect in Jan. of 2024. The official state website quoted Gianforte as having said, “The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented. 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.”
Back in 2022, Gianforte banned TikTok also due to ByteDance: “Given these grave security concerns, effective immediately, no executive agency, board, commission, or other executive branch entity, official, or employee of the State of Montana shall download or access TikTok on government issued devices or while connected to the state network.” He shared the news of the bill in a tweet as well: “To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana.”
However, many Montana residents are not enthused about their governor’s decision. Some individuals in New York expressed their unhappiness, concern, or neutrality over the ban as shown through a TikTok by the Daily Mail. Though, it is not just individuals who are expressing their opinions on this topic. On Monday, May 22, TikTok filed a lawsuit against Austin Knudsen, the Attorney General of Montana, for the ban put in place almost a week before. The lawsuit states that Montana was unlawful in their banning of the app and that “Montanans use TikTok to communicate with each other and others around the world on an endless variety of topics, from business to politics to the arts, by creating and sharing videos, sending messages to each other, and interacting with each other’s content.” The plaintiff, TikTok, states that, “The TikTok Ban is unlawful and should be enjoined for multiple, independent reasons” — those reasons being that it violates the First Amendment, Federal Preemption, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Attainder.
Section 19 under Factual Allegations Part A addresses the issues that the Governor and previous President Trump discussed: “TikTok is operated by and provided in the United States by a U.S. company, Plaintiff TikTok Inc. Plaintiff is led by an executive team located in the United States and Singapore and has offices across the United States, including in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Plaintiff has almost 7,000 employees in the United States. The TikTok platform is not available in China.” Part B states that TikTok has “implemented safeguards to protect the privacy and security of U.S. user data”. They follow up in Section 37 by disclosing, “With respect to the limited data that TikTok does collect from U.S. users [such as birthday, username, and phone number and/or email address], Plaintiff devotes significant resources to keeping that data secure” through the “TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc. (USDS), that will oversee protected U.S. user data and the underlying TikTok U.S. platform.”
Though this has happened in Montana, as of now, Washington State has taken no action to put regulations on TikTok for its residents.