Montana TikTok ban: why has US state banned video app, new law explained, how will it work - legal challenges

The law is scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next year

The Republican governor of Montana has signed a law outlawing TikTok entirely, making Montana the first state in the US to outright ban the social media app. The law is more comprehensive than any other state's attempts to restrict it.

It is anticipated that the law, which is set to go into effect on 1 January 2024, will be legally challenged. It will also act as a trial run for the TikTok-free America that many national legislators have envisioned.

"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,” governor Greg Gianforte said in a statement.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why has Montana banned TikTok?

The FBI, some lawmakers, and representatives from other agencies are worried that the video-sharing app, owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, could be used by the Chinese government to access data on American citizens or to disseminate propaganda in favour of Beijing that could sway public opinion. None of this has ever occurred, according to TikTok.

But China has enacted laws that require companies operating within its jurisdiction to cooperate with national intelligence efforts if requested. Critics fear that these laws could be used to compel TikTok to share user data with the Chinese government.

Montana has become the first US state to outright ban TikTok (Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)Montana has become the first US state to outright ban TikTok (Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Montana has become the first US state to outright ban TikTok (Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Gianforte claimed that TikTok posed a "significant risk" to confidential state information when Montana banned the app on government-owned devices in late December. Both the federal government and more than half of the US states have similar restrictions in place.

TikTok's widespread popularity and ability to reach millions of users globally make it a potential platform for disseminating propaganda or influencing public opinion in favour of the Chinese government. It's for these same reasons - the app's huge popularity and user-friendliness - that US tech giants like Meta and Snapchat view it as a competitive rival.

TikTok collects a significant amount of user data, including personal information, browsing habits and location data. But then, so does just about every other major social network in the world.

How will the rules be enforced?

The new law in Montana forbids TikTok downloads within the state and fines any "entity"—such as an app store or TikTok—10,000 US dollars (£8,000) per day for each occasion when a user is "offered the ability" to access the social media site or download the app. Users themselves are not subject to the penalties.

The ban's opponents say the move is an example of government overreach, and that by using a virtual private network, a service that shields internet users by encrypting their data traffic and prevents others from watching their web browsing and other activities, Montana residents could easily get around it.

Montana state officials say geofencing technology is used with online sports gambling apps, which are deactivated in states where online gambling is illegal.

Geofencing technology is a location-based technology that creates a virtual boundary or "fence" around a specific geographic area to prevent users from engaging in illegal activities and maintain compliance with regional laws and regulations.

What has TikTok said?

TikTok has vowed to fight back against the ban, along with small business owners who use the app for advertising to expand their brands and attract more clients. TikTok has stated that it has a plan to protect US users, and spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the law is illegal and violates people's First Amendment rights.

“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,” Oberwetter said in a statement.