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TikTok ban gets signed into law

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HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he had signed a bill banning Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok over concerns its data-sharing practices jeopardize user privacy and national security.

The ban, which the governor’s office said was the first of its kind in the nation, is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024, unless it is blocked in court.

“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gianforte said in a statement. “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.”

The company, owned by ByteDance, and the American Civil Liberties Union have said they intend to challenge the law, Senate Bill 419, as a violation of constitutionally protected free speech.

“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,” ACLU of Montana Policy Director Keegan Medrano said in a statement.

A TikTok representative also criticized the law in a statement Wednesday.

“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” said TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter. “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.”

The law will bar ByteDance from allowing “the operation of tiktok by the company or users” inside Montana’s “territorial jurisdiction” as long as the platform is owned by a company based in China or another country designated a “foreign adversary” by the federal government.

The law will also make it illegal for companies like Apple and Google to let their users download the platform’s app from their respective app stores. It does not include provisions that would allow the state to prosecute individual Montanans for circumventing the ban.

The law will be enforced by the Montana Department of Justice, which has the power to levy fines of up to $10,000 a day for violations.

Gianforte, a Republican, had previously signaled he would sign the bill in an email exchange where his office suggested amendments that would have expanded the bill’s scope to to apply to all social media platforms that allow users’ personal data to be provided to nations the federal government designates as “foreign adversaries.” Those revisions were nearly identical to an amendment brought by Democrats while the bill was debated on the House floor, where they were resisted by Republican supporters of the ban who argued the changes would make the bill “unworkable.”

The governor also issued a memo Wednesday directing state agencies to ban the use of other China- and Russia-based social media apps on state devices and networks. That ban, effective June 1, will cover ByteDance apps CapCut and Lemon8 in addition to TikTok, as well as Tencent’s WeChat, Pinduoduo’s Temu and Russia-based Telegram Messenger.

“One of government’s chief responsibilities is to keep its citizens – and their personal, private, sensitive information and data – safe and secure,” Gianforte wrote in that memo. “Foreign adversaries’ collection and use of Montanans’ personal information and data from social media applications infringe on Montanans’ constitutionally guaranteed individual right to privacy.”

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