Montana legislators voted 54-43 today bans TikTok from operating in the state and prohibits app stores from offering it for download. The bill could become law, making Montana the first country in America to ban the popular social media platform, a move that could spark a constitutional battle and threaten digital rights.
Previously, people with TikTok on their devices weren’t breaking the law, which now goes to Montana Republican Governor Greg Gianforte. The move comes after years of repeated comments under two presidential administrations that ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, which has 150 million US users, is a national security threat.
Gianforte is expected to sign the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2024. In December, he banned TikTok from Montana’s state apparatus, a move other states have taken in recent months. “I encourage Montanans to protect their privacy and stop using TikTok,” Gianforte said in announcing the ban.
A statewide ban is very different from a state weapon ban and general incentive. It has implications for Montanans’ ability to speak and hear speech – rights protected under the US First Amendment.
“We are not thinking that this will not be a challenge.“ Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. New York Times on Wednesday. “I think that’s the next frontier in First Amendment law that probably has to come from the U.S. Supreme Court. And I think it’s probably going there.”
Shortly after today’s vote, TikTok denounced the law on both First Amendment and logistical grounds.
“The bill’s sponsors acknowledge that they have no plans to continue this attempt to censor Voice of America and that the constitutionality of the bill will be determined by the courts,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government crackdown in Montana.”
A previous version of the bill would have required Internet service providers to block connections to TikTok in Montana, a task that ISP representatives said was unworkable. A trade association representing the companies that operate mobile app stores, including Google and Apple, told the Montana Legislature that it would be nearly impossible to stop TikTok downloads in Montana.
Google declined to comment. Apple did not immediately return WIRED’s request for comment.
According to Riana Pfefferkorn, a research scholar at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, Montana Attorney General Knudsen is overstating the “next frontier of First Amendment rule of law,” especially the AG’s recent comments. Times In his interview, Knudsen revealed that the office was motivated to pursue a full TikTok ban after hearing objections from parents, particularly regarding TikTok’s posts about drug use, pornography and suicide.