Montana lawmakers on Friday approved a first-of-its-kind bill to ban TikTok across the state, setting the state for future court battles that could determine the fate of the popular, Chinese-owned social-media app in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Montana House voted 54-43 to send the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. The governor’s office declined to say whether he would sign the bill but noted Mr. Gianforte had previously banned TikTok on government-issued devices and urged the state university system to do the same.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the bill said the ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. It would prohibit TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., from operating within the state, and would also bar app stores from offering TikTok within the state. It would fine any entity violating this law $10,000 per violation. It is unclear how some elements of the legislation would be enforced.
Once the governor receives the bill, he has 10 days to act on it before it automatically becomes law.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that the bill’s authors ahead of the vote said they expect legal challenges that could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court should Mr. Gianforte sign the legislation.
Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill amounts to censorship and violates free-speech rights protected under the First Amendment.
NPR reported that Montana has become the first state to approve a bill that would ban TikTok over the possibility that the Chinese government could request Americans’ data from the widely popular video-streaming app.
The GOP-controlled Montana House of Representatives sent the bill on Friday to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who can now sign the measure into law. If enacted, the ban in the state would not start until January 2024.
According to NPR, a federal court challenge from TikTok is expected before then, likely teeing up a legal brawl that supporters of the law in Montana say could eventually wind up in front of the Supreme Court.
Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said the bill’s backers have admitted that there is “no feasible plan” for putting the TikTok ban in place, since blocking downloads of apps on any one individual state would be almost impossible to enforce. Oberwetter said the bill represents the censorship of Montanans’ voices.
The ACLU, which has called the move a violation of free speech rights that “would set an alarming precedent for excessive government control over how Montanans use the internet.”
Gizmodo reported that by approving the nation’s first TikTok ban, Montana may have just given a green light to Republican lawmakers across the country to push forward with their own copycat bills. If that happens, TikTok may have no choice but to agree to a forced spinoff of its US business currently favored by the Biden Administration.
Personally, I think this whole thing is a mess. It seems impossible for app stores to exclude TikTok from people who live in Montana. There is no way to be certain what the Supreme Court would have to say about statewide TikTok bans. This self-made problem seems unsolvable.