Montana Becomes First State to Ban TikTok

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law Senate Bill 419, which will go into effect next year

By Denali Sagner
Gov. Greg Gianforte attends a law enforcement roundtable in Kalispell on Sept. 15, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday afternoon signed into law Senate Bill 419, legislation introduced by Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, that bans the social media app TikTok in the state of Montana beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

The bill, which garnered significant controversy during the legislative session, prohibits the operation of the app within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana and imposes fines on any entity that operates TikTok, or allows users to download it through mobile application stores within Montana. Senate Bill 419 does not, however, include provisions that would allow the state to prosecute individual Montanans for using the app.

Gianforte on Wednesday characterized the bill as a critical step in protecting Montanans against spying by foreign adversaries — namely China, the country in which TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based.

“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gianforte said. “Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Gianforte in December banned the use of TikTok on state-owned networks and devices, and the Montana University system in January blocked access to the app on campus networks.

During multiple lengthy hearings this session, proponents of the bill characterized it as a critical step in securing Montanans’ data in the face of aggressive foreign adversaries. Opponents, however, argued that the ban would unfairly target the singular platform and would hurt Montanans who use TikTok to promote their businesses.

“We also believe this is a blatant exercise of censorship and is an egregious violation of Montanans’ free speech rights,” Keegan Medrano, director of policy and advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana, said during a March hearing on the bill.  

Attorney General Austin Knudsen in a May 17 press release wrote, “TikTok is a Chinese Communist Party spying tool that poses a threat to every Montanan. I’m thankful to Governor Gianforte and the Legislature, especially Senator Vance, for working with me to protect Montanans’ privacy and security. I hope other states recognize the dangers of TikTok and follow suit.”

If TikTok is sold to a company that is not incorporated into “any other country designated as a foreign adversary,” the law will be void.

“Together, we will defend the State of Montana and its people against threats to our security, privacy, and way of life,” Gianforte added as he signed the bill into law.