Montana’s TikTok Ban: A Test Case for Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on May 26, 2023

Montana’s recently enacted law prohibiting the use of the social media app TikTok within the state’s borders is under legal scrutiny. The law, signed by Governor Greg Gianforte, targets state employees’ use of TikTok on government-issued devices. However, TikTok itself and a group of the platform’s creators have mounted separate legal challenges.

TikTok’s Legal Action

TikTok has lodged a federal lawsuit against Montana, arguing that the ban represents an unlawful suppression of free speech. The suit contends that the Montana law infringes upon First Amendment rights, an argument echoed by creators in their own legal challenge to the TikTok ban. The national security concerns cited by Montana officials, according to TikTok’s lawyers, fall under federal jurisdiction, making the state’s regulation attempt invalid.

The lawsuit intends to nullify the yet-to-be-implemented Montana law. TikTok stated, “We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana. We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.”

Data Security Concerns and Project Texas

Chinese internet company ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, has faced continuous scrutiny over its data collection practices. ByteDance has admitted to instances of inappropriate data access by its China-based employees, resulting in internal investigations and dismissals.

In response to concerns over potential data misuse, TikTok has unveiled Project Texas, a $1.5 billion data-security plan. Created in collaboration with Austin-based software company Oracle, the plan aims to store Americans’ data on U.S. servers under the supervision of an American team.

ByteDance’s Chinese ownership has fueled legal disputes in both the Trump and Biden administrations. With the future of TikTok in the U.S. still uncertain, the Biden administration has threatened a nationwide ban unless TikTok secures an American buyer. Despite these disputes, no public evidence suggests the Chinese government has used TikTok for espionage or data collection.

Implications of the Montana Law

Montana’s TikTok ban has sparked criticism from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and digital rights advocacy groups, all contending that the law infringes upon Americans’ free speech rights. Moreover, cybersecurity experts question the practicality of implementing the law.

Set to take effect in January 2024, the law imposes penalties on companies like Apple and Google, up to $10,000 per day, if TikTok remains available for download within Montana. However, experts warn of potential loopholes and potential impacts on residents outside Montana but near the state’s border.

This issue could be further explored by examining the legal arguments in the pending lawsuits, the efficacy of Project Texas in mitigating data security concerns, and the possible impacts on social media platforms’ role in free speech and expression.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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