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Federal judge blocks Montana’s TikTok ban, which would have been the first of its kind

TikTok Music has launched on Wednesday in Australia, Singapore and Mexico to a small group of users.

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A federal judge in Montana has blocked a law that would have resulted in a state-wide ban of TikTok starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

Judge Donald Molloy explained his rationale for issuing the preliminary ruling via a legal filing released Thursday, saying the state of Montana failed to show how the original SB 419 bill would be “constitutionally permissible,” among other reasons.

The ruling represents a setback for Montana, whose Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law the SB 419 bill in May, pitching it as helping “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”

“Despite the State’s attempt to defend SB 419 as a consumer protection bill, the current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers,” judge Molloy wrote in the filing. “This is especially apparent in that the same legislature enacted an entirely separate law that purports to broadly protect consumers’ digital data and privacy.”

A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement the company is “pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok.”

However, the office of the Montana Attorney General said in a statement that the judge’s decision is merely “a preliminary matter at this point.”

“The judge indicated several times that the analysis could change as the case proceeds and the State has the opportunity to present a full factual record,” the Montana Attorney General office said. “We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data.”

Before the judge’s preliminary ruling, Montana was set to become the first U.S. state to ban the popular video and social media app, which is owned by the China-based tech giant ByteDance.

ByteDance sued Montana in May to “prevent the state of Montana from unlawfully banning TikTok,” the company said at the time. Lawyers for the company said in court filings that Montana failed to support allegations that the Chinese government “could access data about TikTok users, and that TikTok exposes minors to harmful online content.”

In March, U.S. lawmakers raised questions about the relationship between the Chinese government and the app’s parent company ByteDance when they grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew during a hearing. The lawmakers were concerned that the Chinese Communist Party may be able to access the data of U.S. citizens, and have considered implementing a nation-wide ban on TikTok.

TikTok has tried to assuage national security concerns by emphasizing its “Project Texas” initiative, intended to ensure that the data of U.S. citizens remains in the country via the help of enterprise tech giant Oracle.

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