Unpacking Montana's TikTok Ban: An Examination from a Technological and Privacy Perspective

In a groundbreaking move, Montana became the first state to enact a law banning the social media app, TikTok. The move, championed by Governor Greg Gianforte and enacted through Senate Bill No. 419, brings to the forefront broader concerns regarding data privacy, censorship, and the intricacies of digital governance.

This unprecedented legislation, signed into law in 2023 and due to go into effect on January 1, 2024, prohibits TikTok from operating within Montana's territorial jurisdiction. It extends its prohibition to mobile application stores, barring them from offering TikTok for download to users in Montana.

The reasoning behind the law revolves around perceived threats to data privacy and potential risks of international espionage. The bill underlines that TikTok, owned by the Chinese corporation ByteDance, has the capacity to share user information, including real-time physical locations, with the People's Republic of China. The bill attributes this to the Chinese government's control and oversight of ByteDance and other Chinese corporations.

The legislation also highlights that TikTok collects significant information from its users, accessing data against their will. It further alleges that the platform fails to remove dangerous content that may direct minors to engage in harmful activities.

Entities violating the law could face severe penalties - a fine of $10,000 for each discrete violation, with an additional $10,000 for each day that the violation continues. However, these penalties do not apply to individual users. Enforcement of this legislation is vested in the Montana Department of Justice.

Critics argue that the legislation constitutes a form of censorship and infringes on First Amendment rights. However, proponents point to the need to safeguard user data from potential misuse. With data becoming increasingly integral to national security and economic competitiveness, Montana's TikTok ban underscores the tension between data protection and internet freedom.

The enactment of this legislation echoes broader conversations occurring at the federal level. Last year, former President Joe Biden signed a similar ban, prohibiting federal government employees from using TikTok on government-owned devices. The Montana legislation, however, represents the first outright ban of the app for all users within a state's borders.

This landmark ban signals a significant shift in how states approach the governance of foreign-owned apps and data privacy. As such, Montana's move against TikTok serves as a precursor for potential future conflicts over technology, privacy, and digital policy in an increasingly connected world.