Montana’s TikTok ban raises legal and technical questions

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed into law a first-of-its-kind bill making it illegal for TikTok to operate in the state, setting up a potential legal battle with the company amid growing questions about whether the state. enforce the law.

Montana’s new rules will have more impact than the TikTok bans already in place on government-issued devices in nearly half of the states and the US federal government. There are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana as well as 6,000 businesses that use the video-sharing platform, according to company spokesman Jamal Brown.

Here’s what you need to know:


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

That mirrors arguments made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the US Senate, as well as the heads of the FBI and CIA, who all say TikTok could pose a threat to national security because as the parent company is based in Beijing. ByteDance operates under Chinese law.

Critics point to China’s 2017 national intelligence law that forces companies to cooperate with national governments for state intelligence work. Another Chinese law, enacted in 2014, has a similar mandate.

TikTok says it has never been asked to hand over its data, and won’t do so if asked.


The law prohibits the download of TikTok in the state and fines any “entity” – an app store or TikTok – $10,000 per day every time someone accesses TikTok, “offers the ability” to access it, or download it.

I mean Apple and Google, which operates app stores on Apple and Android devices, may be held liable for any violations. Penalties do not apply to users.

The statewide ban does not take effect until January 2024. It would be void if the social media platform was sold to a company not based in “any country designated as an enemy alien” by the federal government.

The governor explained that he wanted to EXPANDED the bill to other social media apps to address some of the bill’s “technical and legal concerns.” But the legislature adjourned before sending him the bill, meaning he could not offer his amendments.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen pointed to the technology used to block online sports gambling apps as a way to prevent TikTok from operating in the state. Those violations can be reported by anyone. And once the state proves a violation has occurred, it sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company involved, said Kyler Nerison, a spokesman for Knudsen’s office. He said that different companies use different methods for compliance and it is up to them “to not allow their apps to work in Montana and other states where they are not legal.”


Cybersecurity experts say that, apart from avoiding fines, there is nothing to motivate the companies involved to comply and it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to enforce the law.

For one, the US doesn’t have anything equivalent to that kind of control countries like China what their citizens access on the web. In addition to that, internet service providers are out of the picture.

Before the Montana law passed, lawmakers rewrote parts of the bill to make them redundant after an AT&T lobbyist said during a February hearing that the legislation was “impossible” to enforce. .


Apple and Google have not spoken out against the law. But a representative for TechNet, the trade group that counts the two tech giants as its members, said app stores don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps across different states and it is impossible to prevent TikTok from being downloaded in Montana. . The group also said the onus should be on an app to determine where it can work, not an app store.

Telecom analyst Roger Entner, of Recon Analytics, said he believes app stores may have the ability to enforce the law, but it is difficult to enforce and full of loopholes. Apple and Google’s address-linked billing can be bypassed by prepaid cards and IP geolocation can easily be masked by using a VPN service, which can change IP addresses and allow users to avoid restrictions inside, said mobile security expert Will Strafach, the founder of Guardian, which makes a privacy protection app for Apple devices.

Oded Vanunu, head of product vulnerability research at cybersecurity firm Check Point, agreed that it is difficult for app stores to isolate a state from downloading an app. He suggested that it would be more feasible for TikTok to comply because it controls the software and can “adjust settings based on geographic location or IP addresses” of users.


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

But similar to app stores, cybersecurity experts note that any enforcement measures implemented by the company can be easily violated by a VPN and efforts to use IP geolocating can lead to other issues.

David Choffnes, the executive director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University, said that cell providers may use the same types of IP addresses for many states, which could mean that one outside of Montana could be is not properly blocked from using TikTok.


Most likely a legal battle.

Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general, said he expects the law to end up in court.

TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a prepared statement Wednesday that the law violates Montanans’ free speech rights and is against the law.

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue to use TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue to work to protect the rights of our users both internally and externally. in Montana,” Oberwetter said.

Oberwetter declined to say whether the company would file a lawsuit but described some of the legal issues at play. He argued that Montana was trying to override US foreign policy by claiming the bill addressed a national security threat. He said that foreign policy and national security laws are not made at the state level.

NetChoice, a trade group representing TikTok and other tech companies, said the bill would violate the First Amendment and “bill of attainder” laws that prohibit the government from imposing penalties on a specific entity without formal testing.

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