Montana lawmakers passed a bill on Friday banning TikTok from operating in the state amid growing concerns about the app's suspected ties to the Chinese government.
The bill was passed by the state House in a 54–43 vote and now heads to Gov. Greg Gianforte's desk. If Gianforte signs it into law, Montana will become the first state to ban the app outright. (Both the federal government and many states, including Montana, have already forbidden the app on government devices.)
The legislation, which would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, prohibits mobile app stores from offering TikTok to users and enacts penalties of $10,000 for each violation and an additional $10,000 fee for each day the violation continues.
Coming as some members of Congress call for a complete nationwide ban on the app, the move by lawmakers in Montana will likely lead to legal challenges and expose the technological difficulties of barring access to the platform, which has 150 million active users in the US.
“We’re under no illusions that this is not going to get challenged,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen told the New York Times in a recent interview. “I think this is the next frontier in First Amendment jurisprudence that’s probably going to have to come from the US Supreme Court. And I think that’s probably where this is headed.”
Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, criticized the bill's proponents for having "no feasible plan for operationalizing" what she described as an "attempt to censor American voices."
"We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach," Oberwetter told BuzzFeed News.
For years, US policymakers and lawmakers have scrutinized TikTok’s data-sharing and privacy practices because of concerns that its parent company ByteDance is controlled by the Chinese government. And last year, the social media company confirmed an explosive report by BuzzFeed News that engineers in Beijing had accessed US users' data.
At a recent hearing, members of Congress grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew over these issues as they consider legislation that would outlaw the platform and give the government the power to ban technologies deemed a national security risk. The Biden administration has also reportedly demanded that ByteDance sell TikTok and threatened a total ban on the app if it does not comply. So far, the Chinese government has said it would oppose a forced sale.
Clarissa-Jan Lim contributed reporting to this story.