Montana to become first U.S. state to ban TikTok

STORY: Montana has become the first US state to ban TikTok. The Chinese-owned short video app has over 150 million American users, and has been under scrutiny over whether it can be used by China for intelligence gathering.

Legislation Montana passed on Wednesday prohibits Google or Apple app stores from offering TikTok within state lines.

TikTok may also face fines if a Montana user is offered access to their app, and additional fines of $10,000 per day if violations continue.

The ban will take effect in January next year.

In signing the bill, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte said on Twitter he was protecting residents' "personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party."

Calls from national security hawks and lawmakers to ban TikTok over fears the data of Americans could be passed to Beijing, have faced backlash from influencers, some who rallied in Washington in March over what they say would be a violation of their free speech.

In response to Montana's ban, TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said in a statement the bill "infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana," adding that they "will defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana."

The company has previously denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said it would not do so if asked.

TikTok faced an effort by former President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of the app but it was challenged in court and never took effect.

Some of the app's free speech allies include Democrats in Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and first amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jenna Leventoff is policy counsel at the ACLU, and told Reuters in April that Montana's ban would likely be challenged in court over constitutional reasons.

"What they're doing is they are shutting down an entire platform about 150 million Americans use for constitutionally protected speech, for political organizing, for news gathering, for communication with loved ones. We view that as a prior restraint, right? That is when you shut down speech before it happens. By blocking this app, you are preventing those people in Montana from actually speaking in the first place on this app. And so we think that the courts would apply the highest level of constitutional scrutiny there."

TikTok is working on an initiative called Project Texas, which creates a standalone entity to store American user data in the U.S. on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle.