A federal judge has temporarily blocked Montana’s statewide ban on TikTok.
The Montana legislature passed Senate Bill 419 in April, barring the Chinese social media app from operating on any device in the state. The ban was scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy found on Nov. 30 that the ban “oversteps state power and infringes on the constitutional rights of users.”
“In shutting off TikTok, the Legislature has both harmed User Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights and cut off a stream of income on which many rely,” wrote Molloy. “Thus, Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of irreparable harm.”
“Notably, neither party takes issue with the Governor’s mandate that TikTok is banned from all state computers,” the judge added.
A spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said the state looks forward “to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data,” per Reuters.
Concerns about TikTok have increased in recent years as the video-sharing platform gained massive popularity, especially among young Americans.
The app is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based technology company. Under Chinese national security laws, all companies based in the country are required to give the government access to user data. The app’s terms of service have also come under scrutiny for enabling wide-ranging data harvesting while the app is in use. More than 25 states banned the app on government-owned devices and networks out of concern for the security of private citizen’s data.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte backed Senate Bill 419, describing the bill as protection for residents.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” he said in May, per KTVH. “Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”
After Gianforte signed the legislation, five TikTok creators sued the state. They argued the restriction violated their First Amendment rights.
“Montana has no authority to enact laws advancing what it believes should be the United States’ foreign policy or its national security interests, nor may Montana ban an entire forum for communication based on its perceptions that some speech shared through that forum, though protected by the First Amendment, is dangerous,” the plaintiffs argued in the filing.
TikTok celebrated Molloy’s preliminary injunction.
“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,” a company spokesperson told Axios on Nov. 30.