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House joins Senate in endorsing Montana TikTok ban

Bill barring social media platform from operating in the state will likely head to Gov. Greg Gianforte following a final House vote in coming days

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HELENA — The Montana House followed the lead of the state Senate Thursday to endorse a statewide ban on the social media platform TikTok.

Senate Bill 419, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Vance, R-Belgrade, would bar the platform’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, from allowing “the operation of tiktok by the company or users” inside Montana’s “territorial jurisdiction” as long as the platform is owned by a company based in China or another country designated a “foreign adversary” by the federal government. It would also make it illegal for companies like Apple and Google to let their users download the platform’s app from their respective app stores.

The bill advanced on a 60-39 preliminary vote in the House Thursday and previously passed the Senate on a 30-20 vote. Unless a critical mass of lawmakers reverse their positions during a final House vote in the coming days, the ban, which has drawn national attention, will head to the desk of Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Supporters, including Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, have argued the app represents a major privacy risk for its Montana users, poses a risk to national security and inspires teenagers to participate in dangerous viral challenges.

“We are facing a threat like no other from the Chinese Communist party,” Rep. Brandon Ler, R-Savage argued on the House floor Thursday.

Opponents argued the bill would unfairly single out a specific social media platform and hurt Montanans who use the platform to market their businesses. They also said Tiktok users would likely be able to work around the ban by using technology that makes them appear to be accessing the internet from outside Montana.

Minority Democrats pushed back on the bill Thursday by offering an amendment that would have expanded its scope to include all social media apps that collect personal information and allow it to be transferred to “a person or entity” in foreign adversary-designated countries.

“Let’s protect Montanans from all abusive social media companies,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula. Sullivan, an attorney, also argued broadening the bill to apply to a class of businesses instead of targeting a single entity by name would make the measure more likely to survive a court challenge.

Republican supporters of the bill countered that the amendment would make the bill unworkable and said that they consider TikTok a specific problem worth individualized legislation. The amendment failed narrowly on a 48-51 vote.

The preliminary vote on the un-amended bill passed 60-39 with support from 59 of 68 House Republicans and one of 32 Democrats, Helena Rep. Mary Caferro.

SB 419 authorizes a $10,000 fine for each violation of its requirements but exempts app usage by law enforcement, national security interests and “essential government uses permitted by the governor on the information technology system of the state.” It doesn’t include provisions that would allow the state to prosecute individual Montanans for circumventing the ban, which would take effect at the beginning of 2024.

Gianforte, a Republican, issued a directive banning the use of TikTok on state-owned devices and networks in December, and the Montana University system also blocked access to TikTok on campus networks in January. 

Beyond Montana, Congress has also discussed a national ban on the platform.

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