US Judge Blocks Montana’s TikTok Ban, Citing Free Speech

In a significant development, a US judge has blocked Montana’s ban on TikTok, stating that it violated the free speech rights of users. Montana, which became the first US state to pass the ban in May, was set to implement the ban on 1 January. However, TikTok, the short-video sharing app owned by China’s ByteDance, filed a lawsuit against Montana a week later. US District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of TikTok, affirming that the ban “violates the Constitution in more ways than one” and “oversteps state power.”

The Montana law aimed to make it illegal for app stores to offer TikTok, and companies could face hefty penalties of up to $10,000. The judge’s decision comes as a victory for TikTok, which expressed its satisfaction at the “rejection of the unconstitutional law.” The app highlighted that now “hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok.”

However, Montana’s state attorney’s office is contemplating its next steps to defend the law protecting Montanans from potential data acquisition and use by the Chinese Communist Party. The state had already banned the app from government devices in December, amid growing concerns globally over data security and TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government.

With a population of just over one million, Montana’s ban on TikTok raised broader questions about free speech and the protection of personal data. TikTok claims to have 150 million American users, mainly consisting of teenagers and young adults. Despite facing scrutiny worldwide, including a congressional committee questioning its CEO about data privacy concerns, TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, emphasized that the app would never spy on Americans.

While TikTok has faced controversy and bans from several countries, including India and Nepal, for reasons ranging from security fears to threats to social harmony, ByteDance has consistently denied any control by the Chinese government.

The US government had previously issued an ultimatum to ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a potential ban in the country. However, no further action has been taken on this front. As TikTok continues to navigate global legal challenges, this recent court ruling in Montana serves as a reminder that policies must balance concerns surrounding data security and privacy with the protection of free speech rights.