A US federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to block Montana’s first-in-the-nation state law banning the use of TikTok, just a month before it was slated to take effect on January 1, 2024.
The judge, Donald Molloy, declared the ban unconstitutional, citing violations of free speech rights.
The Montana law, signed by Governor Greg Gianforte in May as Senate Bill 419, aimed to prohibit the use of TikTok in the state, emphasizing concerns about potential Chinese Communist Party surveillance and data security. The blocked law did not impose penalties on individual TikTok users but could have fined the company USD $10,000 for each violation in the state.
Subsequently, TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, had filed a lawsuit against the state in May, challenging the ban on grounds that it violated the First Amendment rights of both the company and its users. Five TikTok users in the state also sued the state, seeking to reverse the ban.
In his decision, the federal judge found fault with the legislation, asserting that it “oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional rights of users and businesses.”
In October, Montana, TikTok and the users that filed legal action against the state faced off in a federal court, with lawyers for TikTok and the content creators accusing the state of going “completely overboard” in attempting to regulate the app.
During an hour-long hearing in Missoula, Judge Molloy questioned the state’s argument that the ban is needed to protect the data of TikTok users in the state.
“Everybody on TikTok voluntarily gives their personal data. So if they want to give that information to whatever the platform is, how is it that you can protect them?” Molloy was quoted by Reuters as saying at the time.
Most recently, Molloy expressed skepticism about the state’s intentions, saying, “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.”
The judge also highlighted the state’s focus on Chinese influence, noting an additional law enacted by the Montana Legislature to protect consumers’ digital data and privacy.
“while there may be a public interest in protecting Montana consumers, the State has not shown how this TikTok bill does that. Instead, SB 419 oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional rights of users and businesses.”
Donald Molloy, US District Judge
“While there may be a public interest in protecting Montana consumers, the State has not shown how this TikTok bill does that. Instead, SB 419 oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional rights of users and businesses,” Judge Molloy stated in the ruling, which can be read in full here.
Responding to the ruling on X (Twitter), TikTok, said: “We are 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.”
Emily Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, emphasized that the ruling was preliminary and indicated that the analysis could change as the case progresses.
“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,” Cantrell was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
The decision marks a setback for Montana, which had aimed to be the first US state to implement a comprehensive ban on TikTok. The app already faces restrictions, though not outright bans, in other US cities and states, including New York City, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Georgia.
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