Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation on Wednesday prohibiting Chinese-owned TikTok from functioning in the state in order to safeguard residents from alleged Chinese intelligence collection, becoming Montana the first U.S. state to do so.
Montana will make it illegal for Google and Apple’s app shops to sell TikTok in the state, but will not penalize users who use the software. The prohibition is set to go into force on January 1, 2024, and it is almost guaranteed to encounter judicial challenges.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, did not respond to a Reuters inquiry about legal action.
TikTok previously made a statement claiming that the new law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” and promising to “continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, has faced increasing requests from lawmakers and state officials in the United States to ban the app statewide due to worries about potential Chinese government influence over the network.
The software has grown quite popular among teenagers. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States use TikTok, while 16% of all teens use the app fairly daily. TikTok claims that the “vast majority” of its users are over the age of 18.
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was interrogated by a congressional committee about whether the Chinese government could access user data or affect what Americans saw on the platform. However, efforts to prohibit TikTok nationwide or to give the Biden administration greater powers to crack down on or ban TikTok have failed to gain traction in Congress.
Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”
TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.
FREE SPEECH “TRAMPLED”
TikTok could face fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the restriction in Montana, which has a population of slightly more than 1 million people.
The short video app is available in the app stores of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Google smartphones. If Apple and Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), break the restriction, they might face fines of $10,000 per infraction, per day.
Apple and Google did not react quickly to calls for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the measure “unconstitutional,” noting that it will take effect on January 1 if the courts do not intervene.
“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement.
An attempt by former President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.
TikTok’s free speech allies include several Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Industry group NetChoice general counsel Carl Szabo also criticized the new law. “The government may not block our ability to access constitutionally protected speech – whether it is in a newspaper, on a website or via an app.” he said in a statement, adding that Montana “ignores the U.S. Constitution, due process and free speech.”
Gianforte, who had sought to convince the state legislature to broaden the ban to other social media applications that provide certain data to foreign adversaries, also prohibited the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on state government-issued devices.
TikTok is working on an initiative called Project Texas, which creates a standalone entity to store American user data in the U.S. on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle (ORCL.N) .