A Judge Federalizes Montana’s TikTok Ban, Citing Constitutional Concerns

A federal judge in Montana has issued a preliminary ruling blocking the implementation of a state law that would have resulted in a statewide ban of TikTok starting on January 1, 2024. Judge Donald Molloy stated that the state of Montana failed to demonstrate how the original SB 419 bill would be "constitutionally permissible." The ruling represents a setback for Montana, which had signed the SB 419 bill into law in May, presenting it as a measure to protect residents from potential Chinese Communist Party surveillance through TikTok.

In the legal filing released, Judge Molloy highlighted that the state's attempt to defend SB 419 as a consumer protection bill seemed to be motivated more by targeting China's role in TikTok than protecting Montana consumers. The judge also noted that Montana had enacted a separate law to protect consumers' digital data and privacy, suggesting a focused effort against TikTok.

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A TikTok spokesperson expressed satisfaction with the judge's decision, stating that the ruling rejects an unconstitutional law and allows hundreds of thousands of Montanans to continue using the platform for self-expression, livelihood, and community engagement.

However, the Montana Attorney General's office emphasized that the judge's decision is preliminary and indicated that the analysis could change as the case proceeds. The state looks forward to presenting a complete legal argument to defend the law aimed at protecting Montanans from potential data risks associated with the Chinese Communist Party.

Before the judge's ruling, Montana was on track to become the first U.S. state to ban TikTok. ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant that owns TikTok, sued Montana in May, seeking to prevent the state from unlawfully banning the platform. ByteDance argued that Montana failed to provide sufficient support for allegations that the Chinese government could access TikTok user data and expose minors to harmful content.

The legal battle over TikTok's ban is part of broader concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers regarding the relationship between the Chinese government and ByteDance. Lawmakers have questioned whether the Chinese Communist Party could access the data of U.S.

citizens through TikTok, leading to considerations of a nationwide ban. TikTok has sought to address national security concerns by emphasizing initiatives like "Project Texas" to keep the data of U.S. citizens within the country, in collaboration with Oracle.

The outcome of this legal dispute will likely have implications for the regulation of social media platforms and the extent to which states can independently ban popular apps based on national security concerns.