My Blog
Technology

Judge Halts TikTok Ban in Montana


A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked a statewide ban of TikTok from taking effect next year, at least temporarily preventing the nation’s first such prohibition on the popular video app.

The judge, Donald W. Molloy, said Montana could act as a leader in protecting its residents from harm but must “act within the constitutional legal context.” He said a ban of TikTok “limits constitutionally protected First Amendment speech” and granted a preliminary injunction to stop the ban.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has been locked in a legal battle with Montana since state lawmakers passed a bill banning the app in April. (The governor signed it in May.) Lawmakers said the ban would protect residents’ data from the Chinese government, significantly escalating a national push to bar TikTok from government-owned devices.

TikTok, which has long said it does not share U.S. user data with Beijing officials, has called the law overbroad and unconstitutional, and requested the preliminary injunction. The fight has been closely watched by free speech advocates, Big Tech groups and policymakers looking to restrict the app in other states and at the national level. The Biden administration has been weighing a proposal from TikTok that the company says would address national security concerns.

Montana’s law was drafted by Austin Knudsen, the state’s Republican attorney general and a self-professed China hawk. But legal experts anticipated that the rule would have trouble standing up in court, with many saying it violates users’ First Amendment rights. In 2020, federal judges blocked President Donald J. Trump’s attempt to ban the app, saying the administration most likely overstepped its authority by invoking emergency economic powers.

“Banning TikTok sets a dangerous precedent for how we regulate free speech online,” said Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute, which has criticized the Montana law. “Restricting access to foreign media is something that we usually associate with authoritarian regimes, and we should be very careful before giving that kind of power to our government. The Montana case is an extremely important case for that reason.”

In a hearing before Judge Molloy in October, TikTok said Montana could have enacted a data privacy law or taken other steps to address its concerns.

TikTok sued Montana and funded a separate lawsuit that creators filed in the state; the two suits are now consolidated.

At the hearing, Ambika Kumar, a lawyer for the TikTok creators, said: “Our position is not that the state can never regulate anything on the internet. Our position is that the state has gone completely overboard.”

Montana disagreed. “There simply is no other way to guarantee Montanans safety from the use of TikTok other than a flat ban until it ceases its ties with China,” said Christian Corrigan, the state’s solicitor general. He added that a general social media law would not work, as “TikTok is the only application that has a connection to a hostile foreign power.”

Judge Molloy said in court that Montana could have done “a lot of things” outside of a ban. He suggested regulations around TikTok’s data collection or public service announcements starring Mr. Knudsen: “Why not have the attorney general get on and make a public service announcement that we think that the TikTok is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese military?”

Judge Molloy called Montana’s effort to protect users “paternalistic” at one point and questioned why it was the only state to pass such a ban. “That seem a little strange to you?” he asked.

“Everybody else is marching, and it’s kind of like the mother that was watching the parade,” he said. “There’s one of the bands that goes by and one guy’s out of step and it’s her son. She said: ‘Look at that. The whole band is out of step except for my son.’”

Mr. Corrigan responded that “states take new types of measures all the time,” and that a state’s being first “doesn’t mean it’s necessarily out of step.”

Judge Molloy’s decision is likely to be noted by other lawmakers in other states.

In September, a group of 18 Republican attorneys general filed a brief supporting Montana’s ban and argued that the court should deny TikTok’s request for an injunction.

The group said in the filing that it had a “compelling interest” in the case, arguing that states had always held “the power to protect their citizens from deceptive and harmful business practices,” and that federal law did not bar states from protecting its citizens from such conduct. Indiana, Arkansas and Utah have all filed their own lawsuits against TikTok in the past year.

“To my mind,” Ms. Krishnan said, “there’s no question that the ban is unconstitutional and it should be struck down, but a reason why so many of us are following the case is that many other states are looking to this.”

Jordyn Holman contributed reporting.

Related posts

White Space will release a job power to curb on-line abuse and harassment

newsconquest

Beats Headphones Are at an All-Time Low Price for Cyber Monday

newsconquest

Google Gets Its Mojo Back With AI and New Gadgets at Google I/O

newsconquest

Leave a Comment