Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok over security concerns

 Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a measure Wednesday banning TikTok in Montana, making it the first state in the United States to completely ban the social media app amid skepticism from lawmakers.

Montana's ban is the most restrictive measure on TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese tech company, in the United States. It is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and is expected to be challenged in court.

"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," Gianforte said in a statement.

Lawmakers from both political parties have raised concerns over TikTok's potential threat to national security, including if the app could be used by the Chinese government to spy on U.S. citizens. There has also been a growing number of red states that have issued TikTok bans on government-issued devices.

Montana's measure was introduced in February by the state's GOP-controlled Legislature and sparked months of national debate before it was easily passed by the House last month. But cybersecurity experts say it could be difficult to enforce the ban.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the law infringes on people's First Amendment rights and is unlawful.

"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 in a statement to the Associated Press.

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Montana fully bans TikTok

Montana's new law will ban downloads of TikTok across the state and fine any "entity" $10,000 per day for each time a person in the state is able to access the social media platform or download the app. The penalties would not apply to users.

The measure follows Gianforte's ban of the app on government-owned devices in late December. The governor said Tiktok posed a "significant risk" to sensitive state data.

Gianforte also announced Wednesday that he was prohibiting the use of all social media applications, including WeChat and Telegram Messenger, linked to foreign adversaries on state equipment and for state businesses in Montana.

But opponents say state residents can bypass the ban by using a virtual private network, a service that creates an online encryption to add security and anonymity for internet users.

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TikTok bans criticized as unconstitutional

The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and NetChoice, a trade coalition, called the Montana law unconstitutional.

"With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment," Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement.

In March, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked a bill that would ban TikTok nationally. Paul said the bill would violate the Constitution and anger voters who use the app.

Montana officials are also expected to receive criticism from TikTok users and advocacy groups.

The social media app has gained massive global popularity and is seen as a competitive threat to other U.S. tech giants, such as Meta. In 2020, TikTok surpassed two billion mobile downloads worldwide.

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