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Montana to be the first state in the US to entirely ban TikTok

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Montana to be the first state in the US to entirely ban TikTok

On Thursday, Montana lawmakers made progress towards passing a bill to completely ban TikTok from operating in the state. While this move is likely to face legal challenges, it could also serve as an experiment for the TikTok-free America that some national lawmakers have proposed.

The Montana legislature, controlled by the GOP, has proposed a bill that is more comprehensive than bans currently in place in almost half of the states and the federal government, which restrict TikTok usage on government devices. The bill received a 60-39 endorsement from the House on Thursday, with a final vote expected on Friday before it is sent to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte for approval. TikTok has already been banned on government devices in Montana, and the Senate passed the bill with a 30-20 vote in March.

There has been intense scrutiny on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, over concerns that it could potentially provide user data to the Chinese government or spread pro-Beijing propaganda and misinformation on its platform. Despite leaders at the FBI, CIA, and lawmakers of both parties raising these concerns, no evidence has been presented to support the claims.

Advocates of the ban highlight two Chinese laws that require companies to collaborate with the government on state intelligence operations. They also highlight concerning incidents, such as ByteDance’s admission in December that it dismissed four workers who obtained the IP addresses and other data of two journalists in an attempt to identify the source of a leaked report about the company.

Legislation is being considered in Congress that does not specifically target TikTok, but would authorize the Commerce Department to impose limitations on foreign security risks on technology platforms. Although the White House supports the bill, it has faced opposition from privacy advocates, right-wing commentators, and others who argue that the language is overly broad. Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has encouraged state legislators to pass the bill because he is uncertain whether Congress will promptly enact a nationwide ban.

“I believe Montana has a chance to take the lead,” said Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen in a March meeting with a House committee. He asserts that the app is utilized by the Chinese government to spy on Montanans. If a ban is implemented, it would not be effective until January 2024 and would be nullified if Congress imposes a ban or if TikTok ends its ties with China.

The proposed legislation would forbid downloading TikTok in Montana and impose a $10,000 daily fine on any “entity” (such as TikTok or an app store) each time the social media platform or app is made available for access. Users would not be subject to the penalties.

Some opponents of the bill argued that it represented an instance of government overreach and that Montana residents could easily bypass the proposed ban by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts internet traffic, making it harder for third parties to track online activities, steal data, and determine a person’s location.

During a hearing for the bill in March, a representative from the tech trade group TechNet argued that app stores cannot geofence apps on a state-by-state basis, and that it would be impossible for members like Apple and Google to prevent TikTok from being downloaded in Montana. However, Knudsen claimed that geofencing technology is used with online sports gambling apps, which are deactivated in states where online gambling is illegal. In response to the bill’s passing, Ashley Sutton, TechNet’s executive director for Washington state and the northwest, issued a statement on Thursday saying that “the responsibility should be on an app to determine where it can operate, not an app store.” Sutton also expressed concerns to lawmakers and urged the governor to work with them to amend the legislation to ensure that unintended targets are not affected.

In a statement, TikTok stated that it will continue to advocate for its users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are in danger due to this “unreasonable” government intervention.

Critics of the bill have pointed out that the state is not aiming to prohibit other social media platforms that gather similar user data.

“We think this is a blatant form of censorship and a serious infringement on the free speech rights of Montanans,” said Keegan Medrano, an official with the ACLU of Montana.

On Thursday, Democratic Representative Katie Sullivan proposed an amendment to broaden the ban to include any social media app that collected personal information and transmitted it to a foreign adversary, such as China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela. The amendment was narrowly rejected 48-51.

About Rajesh Parmar

Rajesh Parmar

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