Supporters of the first-of-its-kind-bill expect legal challenges if the governor signs the legislation.3 min read
Montana lawmakers on Friday approved a first-of-its-kind bill to ban TikTok across the state, setting the stage for future court battles that could determine the fate of the popular, Chinese-owned social-media app in the U.S.
The Montana House voted 54-43 to send the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk. The governor’s office declined to say whether he would sign the bill but noted Mr. Gianforte had previously banned TikTok on government-issued devices and urged the state university system to do the same.
The bill said the ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. It would prohibit TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., from operating within the state, and would also bar app stores from offering TikTok within the state. It would fine any entity violating this law $10,000 per violation. It is unclear how some elements of the legislation would be enforced.
Once the governor receives the bill, he has 10 days to act on it before it automatically becomes law.
The bill’s authors ahead of the vote said they expect legal challenges that could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court should Mr. Gianforte sign the legislation.
Critics including the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill amounts to censorship and violates free-speech rights protected under the First Amendment.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company will “continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”
App store-providers Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers who opposed the bill say it is unclear what would happen if TikTok users employed a workaround to download the app, such as a virtual private network that makes it seem their devices are logging in from outside Montana.
Friday’s vote in Helena was the latest setback to TikTok’s campaign to remain operating in the U.S.
Despite Montana’s relatively small population of a little more than one million people, the company had hired Helena-based lobbyists and recruited local TikTok creators to appear in newspaper ads to fight the bill. Some TikTok leaders were concerned a statewide ban in Montana could trigger a domino effect that could lead other states—and perhaps Congress—to follow suit, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.
Helena has become the latest demonstration of the bipartisan and nationwide momentum to ban TikTok over national-security concerns. In Washington last month, Democrats and Republicans at a congressional hearing grilled TikTok’s chief executive over his company’s ties to China. A Pew Research Center survey a week later found that 50% of Americans supported a TikTok ban, with 22% opposed and 28% indicating they were unsure.
The Biden administration recently asked TikTok to separate itself from its parent company ByteDance or to face a possible ban, the Journal reported last month. Some Congress members and Biden administration officials said they’re concerned that the Chinese government could force TikTok to spy on its 150 million U.S. users or distribute propaganda.
TikTok said it would refuse to comply with such a request—and that it has proposed a $1.5 billion plan to the Biden administration that would silo its U.S. operations from China’s influence.
The debate over banning TikTok in Helena mirrored the conversation in Washington. Republican state Sen. Shelley Vance said she introduced the bill—which was written with the help of Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, also a Republican—over the national-security concerns. The Montana Senate approved it last month, 30-20, with bipartisan support.
The bill’s detractors also came from both parties. Just as liberal Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and libertarian-leaning GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky have raised concerns about congressional efforts to ban TikTok nationwide, like-minded Montana lawmakers from both parties did the same in Helena.
Write to Meghan Bobrowsky at firstname.lastname@example.org and Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com
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