Montana TikTok ban sparks debate and court battle

TikTok Business

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The outright ban on  TikTok, unveiled on Wednesday (05.17.2023) in the US state of Montana, is heading towards a court battle, while some experts doubt whether this is technically feasible.

After being signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte, Montana next year will become the first state in the country to prevent the use of the popular digital platform, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

Should a “Great Wall of Montana” be built?

Tarah Wheeler, head of cybersecurity firm Red Queen Dynamics and senior fellow for Global Cyber ​​Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, doesn’t see a ban as possible: “You’d have to build the Great Wall of Montana,” she said, referring to the historic Great Wall of China.

“Maintaining a ban in the state, and keeping yourself free of the kind of surveillance you’re trying to escape, is not possible,” he added.

Use of virtual private networks

TikTok users are likely to take advantage of some free software to get a virtual private network (VPN), through which people change the location of devices.

According to Wheeler, technically savvy teens in Montana could use a VPN to be seen logging in from other states, which also presents vulnerabilities to spyware or malware lurking on some networks.

Lack of evidence

Jason Kelley, acting director of the Internet rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes that while the ban was passed on the rationale of protecting Montana users from alleged Chinese meddling, no clear evidence has been produced.

In his opinion, it is the lack of a national data privacy law that leaves users vulnerable, with brokers free to collect and sell information from web users: “If China wants data on users, it could just go to buy them.”

A court battle

As debate over the app’s impact and safety rages, five TikTok content creators in the state have already filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the ban is illegal and violates free speech rights.

Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said the ban will easily be seen as a violation of fundamental free speech laws in the United States, where companies have the same rights of expression as individuals.

Test model for the USA

The move will serve as a legal test for a nationwide ban on the platform, something lawmakers in Washington are increasingly calling for. A wide swath of politicians accuse the app of being a ward of the Chinese government and a spy tool for Beijing, something TikTok furiously denies.

The ban would take effect in 2024, but would be lifted if TikTok is acquired by a company incorporated in a country not considered by the United States to be a foreign threat, the law says.

The law has been interpreted as an invitation from Montana legislators for TikTok and the White House to reach some kind of agreement that would make the application separate from ByteDance, or stop operating permanently in the North American country.