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Montana bans TikTok: Why did the governor outlaw the app and how will it be enforced?

TikTok logo
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Montana has become the first state in the U.S. to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. The controversial move is sure to face legal challenges. Indeed, Yahoo News partner the Associated Press reported Thursday that five TikTok users have already filed a lawsuit, arguing that the measure infringes on free speech rights and that the state lacks authority for the ban.

Here’s what you need to know about the new law signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte this week.

Why is Montana banning TikTok?

Gov. Greg Gianforte
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signing a new law banning TikTok in the state. (Garrett Turner/Montana Governor's Office via AP)

The ban is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, within the state of Montana, where 200,000 users and 6,000 businesses currently use the app, according to company spokesperson Jamal Brown.

“To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana,” Gianforte tweeted on Wednesday.

While individual users and internet providers won’t be penalized, the new law fines any “entity” — i.e. app stores like Apple or Google, or TikTok itself — $10,000 per day each time a person is able to download or access the platform.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told the Associated Press that the ban was unlawful, but didn’t say whether the company intended to 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.

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Can the law be enforced?

TikTok content creators gather outside the Capitol to voice their opposition to a potential ban on the app
TikTok content creators gather outside the Capitol to voice their opposition to a potential ban on the app, March 22. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Opponents and cybersecurity experts say it will likely be easy for TikTok enthusiasts to get around the ban by using a virtual private network to encrypt their data and prevent others from observing their web browsing, while state officials argue that geofencing technology is already in use for things like online sports gambling apps.

The ban is also likely to face more legal challenges.

“Montanans are indisputably exercising their First Amendment rights when they post and consume content on TikTok,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told Yahoo News partner the Independent. “Because Montana can’t establish that the ban is necessary or tailored to any legitimate interest, the law is almost certain to be struck down as unconstitutional.”

Others point out that a TikTok ban doesn’t solve the privacy concerns raised by Gianforte and Montana lawmakers.

“I don’t think there’s a good reason to single out TikTok and let everyone else scot-free, especially when we know there’s a very thriving data market,” Cindy Cohn, executive director of the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Yahoo News partner Quartz. “If the Chinese government wants data on you and me, they have so many places they can go. They don’t need TikTok.”

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What else did Montana ban?

A cellphone displaying Telegram
A cellphone displaying Telegram. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

TikTok isn’t the only app being targeted. Telegram — which was founded in Russia and is currently headquartered in Dubai — as well as Chinese-owned WeChat and Temu and similar apps will also be banned from government devices and state business. Thee movee expands on a TikTok ban placed on Montana’s government and state network devices that took effect in December.

“TikTok is just one app tied to foreign adversaries,” Gianforte said. “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.”

This ban, which goes into effect on June 1, applies to “all state-issued cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and other devices which connect to the internet,” as well as “any third-party firms conducting business for or on behalf of the State of Montana.”

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Where else is TikTok banned?

A crossed-out TikTok logo
Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In February, the Biden administration approved a TikTok ban on all federal devices, citing concerns that ByteDance would give user data to the Chinese government or promote propaganda and misinformation. Nearly half of U.S. states have outlawed the app on government devices, and Utah and Arkansas have laws requiring parental approval for anyone under the age of 18. Some universities have also banned use of the app on wireless campus networks.

Other countries have also imposed TikTok bans on government devices, albeit often with some exceptions. In the United Kingdom, for example, most users of government-issued devices are barred from using the app, though Downing Street has said they don’t have plans to delete the No. 10 TikTok account.

India is one of the few countries with an outright nationwide ban on TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps; their ban went into effect in January 2021.