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What just happened? A judge has blocked a bill that would have introduced a state-wide ban on TikTok in Montana on January 1, saying it violates the free-speech rights of users. The first-of-its-kind law was the result of the data privacy issues that have plagued TikTok, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, for years.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 419 in May prohibiting mobile app stores from offering TikTok. Any 'entity,' including TikTok, offering access to the platform or downloading the app after January 1 would have risked fines up to $10,000 per day. Penalties didn't apply to users, so owners didn't have to delete Tiktok, and sideloading the app or using a VPN wouldn't have resulted in a fine.
To protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana.– Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) May 17, 2023
TikTok sued Montana to block the ban, claiming that Bill 419 violated the First Amendment rights of both users and the company. Some TikTok users also joined the legal battle, filing suit to stop the ban.
Judge Donald Molloy granted TikTok's request for a preliminary injunction yesterday, stating that the ban "violates the Constitution in more ways than one" and "oversteps state power." The Judge said that the people of Montana would have had an important channel of communication restricted by the law, a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Judge Molloy also said that the bill was more about targeting China's role in TikTok than protecting consumers in the state. "SB 419 completely bans TikTok in Montana. It does not limit the application in a targeted way with the purpose of attacking the perceived Chinese problem," he said.
The bill also claimed TikTok failed to remove content deemed dangerous to minors, further justifying its ban. The Judge said another law already shields the protection of children online.
TikTok said it was pleased 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."
A spokesperson for the Montana attorney-general said the ruling is only a preliminary one that applies while the court examines the case. "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," said Emilee Cantrell, via the Financial Times.
TikTok's alleged ties with the Chinese government, which it has repeatedly denied, have led to the federal government and more than half of US states banning it from government workers' devices. The EU commission took similar action this year.