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Federal Judge Blocks Montana’s TikTok Ban, Calling It Unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday blocked Montana’s sweeping TikTok ban from taking effect next year, calling the law unconstitutional and beyond the state’s power.

The law, the first of its kind in the U.S., would have prohibited the downloading of TikTok in Montana. Individual users wouldn’t have faced penalties under the law, but entities, such as app stores and TikTok, that offer users the ability to download the app could have faced $10,000 fines per day.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that although Montana can take actions to protect its residents from harm, the statewide ban was a violation of free speech and “oversteps state power.”

“The current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s Legislature and attorney general were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers,” Molloy wrote in his opinion, according to The New York Times.

The ban stemmed from concerns from lawmaker and the FBI over whether the app, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance and has about 150 million monthly users in America, could allow the Chinese government to access Americans’ data.

Some members of Congress tried to ban the app, even by attempting to give the Biden administration the authority to restrict or bar foreign-owned apps, Reuters reported.

More than 30 states have enacted laws banning TikTok from state devices and networks out of fear of the Chinese government’s potential collection of data, according to The Washington Post.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed a law in December barring the use of TikTok on government-owned devices, arguing that the app poses a “significant risk” to sensitive data in the state.

In May, Gianforte took the ban a step further and signed the broader law barring all use of the app throughout the state. The law was set to take effect on Jan. 1 but faced legal challenges from opponents who said the law would be unconstitutional.

In May, TikTok sued the state over the ban, asserting that it violated the company’s and users’ right to free speech. TikTok users in Montana also tried to block the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the law when it was signed, calling it unconstitutional and echoing sentiments that the organization, along with several other free speech and civil liberties organizations, had written in a letter to Montana’s House of Representatives in April.

“The government cannot impose a total ban on a communications platform like TikTok unless it is necessary to prevent extremely serious, immediate harm to national security,” the letter said, adding that there was “no public evidence of harm” that could meet that level.

In a court document, TikTok stated that it “has not shared, and would not share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and has taken substantial measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok users.”

In his preliminary injunction ruling, Molloy said that TikTok had “the better arguments” and “demonstrated a likelihood to succeed on the merits,” according to the Post.

“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 spokesperson for TikTok said in a statement.

Since the injunction is preliminary, the ban could still be reinstated as the case proceeds.

“We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data,” Emilee Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who drafted the law, said in a statement.

HuffPost reached out to Gianforte and the Montana attorney general’s office for additional comment but did not receive an immediate response.

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