Montana is banning TikTok. But can the state enforce the law and fend off lawsuits?

Streaming HUBMay 22, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) – TikTok is challenging a first-of-its-kind Montana law that makes it illegal for people to use the social media app in the state. This is the second lawsuit since the ban came into force.

Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the legislation Wednesday, expecting a legal battle. The law, set to take effect on January 1, 2024, also faces questions about whether it can be enforced.

Five TikTok users sued the state government last week, saying the law is unconstitutional. TikTok made similar arguments in its lawsuit in federal court in Missoula on Monday.

Montana’s rules are more far-reaching than restrictions on TikTok elsewhere, including restrictions on government-issued devices in nearly half the states and within the US federal government.

According to company spokesman Jamal Brown, there are 200,000 TikTok users and 6,000 businesses in Montana that use the video-sharing platform.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why is Montana banning TikTok?

Supporters of the law in Montana claim the Chinese government could harvest US user data from TikTok and use the platform to push pro-Beijing misinformation or messages to the public.

It reflects arguments made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the US Senate, as well as the heads of the FBI and CIA, all of whom have said that TikTok could pose a threat to national security because its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is owned by the Chinese works under. Law.

Critics have pointed to China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law that forces companies to cooperate with the country’s governments for state intelligence operations. Another Chinese law enacted in 2014 has similar orders.

TikTok says it has never been asked to hand over its data and will not do so if asked.

What is TikTok’s argument in the legal challenge?

The lawsuit filed on Monday by TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said the new law violates the constitution’s right to freedom of expression. It says the law is based on unfounded speculation that the Chinese government can access users’ data.

“The State cites nothing to support these allegations,” the company’s attorneys wrote. “The state’s bare speculation ignores the reality that (TikTok) has not shared, and will not share, US user dates with the Chinese government.”

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said legal challenges were expected. He said the Chinese Communist Party was using TikTok as a tool to spy on Americans “by collecting personal information, keystrokes and even the locations of its users”.

Several national lawmakers envision the case could serve as a testing ground for a TikTok-free America.

How is Montana planning to ban TikTok?

The law would prohibit the download of TikTok in the state and fine any “entity” – an app store or TikTok – $10,000 for every time a person accesses, downloads or is offered access to TikTok. Day fine will be imposed.

This means that Apple and Google, which operate the App Stores on Apple and Android devices, will be liable for infringement. The penalty will not apply to users.

If the social media platform is sold to a company that is not located in a country designated as a foreign adversary, the statewide ban will be void.

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen has pointed to a technique used to ban online sports gambling apps as a way to prevent TikTok from operating in the state. Anyone can report those violations. Once the state verifies that a violation has occurred, it sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company involved, said Kyler Nerrison, a spokeswoman for Knudsen’s office.

So, can the TikTok ban work?

Cyber ​​security experts say that apart from avoiding fines, it does nothing but encourage the companies involved to comply and that it would be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to adequately enforce the law.

The US has nothing on par with countries like China controlling what their citizens access on the web. Compounding that, Internet Service Providers are out of the picture.

Before the Montana law passed, lawmakers were off the hook for rewriting parts of the bill after AT&T’s lobbyist said it was “not practical” to implement the law during a February hearing.

Can tech companies block it?

A representative from TechNet, the trade group that counts the two tech giants as its members, said the App Store does not have the ability to “geofence” apps in different states and that it would be impossible to block TikTok from being downloaded in Montana. The group has said the onus should be on an app, not the App Store, to determine where it can operate.

Roger Entner, telecoms analyst at Recon Analytics, says he believes the App Store may have potential to enforce the law, but enforcing it would be cumbersome and full of loopholes. Apple and Google’s address-linked billing can be easily bypassed with prepaid cards and IP geolocation by using a VPN service, which can change IP addresses and allow users to avoid content restrictions, according to the Guardian. said founder mobile security expert Will Strafach, which makes a privacy protection app for Apple devices.

Oded Wanunu, head of product vulnerability research at cybersecurity firm Check Point, agreed that it would be difficult for the App Store to isolate app downloads to any one state. He suggested that it would be more possible for TikTok to comply because it controls the software and can “adjust settings based on geographic location or IP address” of users.

Can Tiktok block itself?

When users allow TikTok to collect their location information, it can track a person up to at least 3 square kilometers (1.16 sq mi) from their actual location. If that feature is disabled, TikTok may still collect approximate location information — such as the region, city or zip code a user may be located in — based on device or network information, such as an IP address.

But similar to the App Store, cybersecurity experts note that any enforcement measures implemented by the company can be easily bypassed with a VPN and that attempts to use IP geolocation can lead to other problems.

David Chafness of Northeastern University’s Cyber ​​Security and Privacy Institute said cell providers could use the same type of IP address for multiple states, which could mean someone not living in Montana could be mistaken for TikTok. can be blocked in any way.


AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Boston.

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