The Montana Senate voted Thursday to advance a statewide ban on Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, calling the service a threat to privacy, national security and public safety.
The text of Senate Bill 419, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, says the platform’s data collection practices, combined with the potential for that data to be shared with the Chinese government, harm Montanans’ privacy. It also says public safety is jeopardized by how the platform spreads viral challenges such as “taking excessive amounts of medication,” “attempting to climb stacks of milkcrates,” and “cooking chicken in NyQuil.”
“TikTok endangers the safety of Montanans and Americans at large,” Vance said as the bill was debated, referencing investigative reporting on the company’s data management practices. “We know beyond doubt that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will.”
The bill would add language to state law preventing ByteDance from allowing “the operation of tiktok by the company or users” inside Montana’s “territorial jurisdiction” as long as the platform is owned by a company based in China or another country designated a “foreign adversary” by the federal government. The bill would also prevent companies like Apple and Google from letting users download the platform’s app from their respective app stores.
SB 419 authorizes a $10,000 fine for each violation of those requirements. It exempts app usage by law enforcement, national security interests and “essential government uses permitted by the governor on the information technology system of the state.”
TikTok COO V Pappas criticized the proposed law in a statement reported by NBC Montana, calling proponents’ arguments for the bill “deeply flawed.”
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After Gov. Greg Gianforte banned the use of TikTok on state-owned devices and for state business, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian followed suit last week with a directive tailored to Montana campuses.
“Every day, Montanans come to TikTok to learn something new, to share their voice and creativity, to chronicle Montana’s natural beauty, and to help build their businesses,” Pappas wrote. “This piece of legislation is an egregious violation of Montanans’ free speech rights, and it will close Montana off from the 100 million strong TikTok community in the United States.”
During Thursday’s floor debate, opponents questioned how the law would apply to media outlets that embed TikTok videos in news articles or users who send links to posts via email. The Senate voted to remove a clause from the bill that would have made Montana internet service providers responsible for blocking the platform directly.
Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, noted that American-owned social media platforms like Facebook also present privacy concerns.
“I understand government banning it on sensitive government devices — that makes sense,” Trebas said. “But, to me, banning it to the general public is high overreach.”
Vance said the penalties in the bill would apply only to companies, not to users.
The measure passed its final Senate vote 30-20, winning support from 28 of 34 Senate Republicans and two Democrats. It now advances to the Montana House for further debate. In order to become law, bills must advance past the Senate, House, and governor.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, issued a directive banning the use of TikTok on state-owned devices and networks in December. “Use of TikTok on state devices poses a significant risk to the security of our state and Montanans’ sensitive data,” he wrote at the time.
The Montana University system also blocked access to TikTok on campus networks in January.
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