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TikTok wins court ruling overturning statewide ban in Montana as judge says law 'likely violates First Amendment'

TikTok users in Big Sky Country are free – for now – to continue watching short videos on the app in the new year.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Thursday blocking Montana's first-of-its-kind U.S. ban on TikTok in the state, ruling that the law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024, was likely unconstitutional.

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The bill was signed into law in May 2023 by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who said it would “protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from collection by the Chinese Communist Party.” TikTok – owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance – has been a political football for several years, targeted by American lawmakers wary of its ties to China and TikTok's handling of user data. TikTok sued to overturn the Montana law on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment and said claims that the Chinese government could access TikTok user data were baseless.

In the Nov. 30 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy granted TikTok's request for a preliminary injunction and ordered the Montana law – called SB 419 – pending “a final determination on the merits” of the company's claims state has been hit.

Montana's TikTok ban “exceeds state power and violates the constitutional rights of users and companies,” Molloy wrote.

The judge noted that the state's defense of SB 419 “rests on the proposition that the First Amendment is not affected at all because the bill does not regulate speech,” and that the state argues that the Montana legislature “is can make one’s own reasoned judgment about what”. Conduct is permitted or prohibited within its limits.” But Molloy disagreed, writing that the law was “not just a general consumer protection law without First Amendment implications.”

TikTok successfully demonstrated that Montana's law “is unlikely to withstand even intermediate scrutiny” and that the ban therefore “likely violates the First Amendment,” according to Molloy's ruling.

Molloy also wrote that the filing “leaves little doubt that the Montana Legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China's alleged role in TikTok than protecting Montana consumers…By the state's foreign affairs “He identified SB 419's Achilles heel.”

A copy of the judgment can be found at this link.

A TikTok representative said in a statement that he was “pleased that 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 spokesman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said defendants in the case, noted that the ruling was preliminary and said, “We look forward to presenting the full legal arguments to defend the law that protects Montanans from being obtained and used by the Chinese Communist Party.” ” Data.”

Under Montana's SB 419, TikTok would have faced fines of up to $10,000 per day per violation starting January 1, 2024 if the company continued to operate in the state. Additionally, the bill would allow the state to impose penalties on Apple and Google if they allow users in Montana to download the app from their respective app stores.

The text of the Montana law reads in part: “The People's Republic of China is an adversary of the United States and Montana and has an interest in collecting information about Montanans, Montana businesses, and users' intellectual property for the purpose of conducting corporate and international espionage The law also states that the Chinese government “exercises control and supervision over ByteDance, like other Chinese companies, and may direct the company to share user information, including users' real-time physical locations.” Additionally, the law states claims that “TikTok does not remove and may even promote dangerous content that entices minors to engage in dangerous activities.”

TikTok argued in court filings that Montana's claims that the Chinese government could access data about the app's users and that the app “exposes minors to harmful online content” were baseless. The State “provides nothing to support these allegations, and the State's mere speculation ignores the reality that Plaintiff has not and would not share U.S. user data with the Chinese government and takes significant steps to protect the privacy and security of.” “This includes storing all U.S. user data in the United States by default and establishing safeguards to protect U.S. user data,” the lawsuit challenging the Montana law says.

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