Montana Implements TikTok Ban: Challenges Ahead in Law Enforcement and Legal Battles

The company is challenging Montana’s new law that bans TikTok. A second legal challenge has been filed over the prohibition. On Wednesday, Republican Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed the first-of-its-kind measure, fully anticipating court challenges. The legitimacy of the law’s enforcement is also contested.

Five TikTok users in Montana were sued for violating their constitutional rights last week. TikTok made the same assertions in a federal lawsuit it filed in Missoula on Monday. The scope of Montana’s TikTok ban exceeds that of nearly half of other states and the federal government combined. According to the company’s spokesman, Jamal Brown, the network is used by 200,000 people in Montana and 6,000 businesses.

Proponents of the measure argue that TikTok provides China with unfettered access to user data in the United States and might be used to disseminate pro-Beijing propaganda. The FBI, the CIA, and a group of senators from both parties are concerned that TikTok poses a threat to national security since its parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, is governed by Chinese law. Companies in China are obligated to collaborate with the government on state intelligence per the National Intelligence Law passed in 2017. Similar regulations were introduced into Chinese law in 2014.

The new regulation, according to TikTok’s Monday complaint, violates the company’s right to free speech under the Constitution. Unproven allegations that the Chinese government may access user data are the basis for the law. The company maintains it has not been asked to share information with the Chinese government and would refuse to do so if given the opportunity.

On January 1, 2024, the state of Montana will ban the download of TikTok. The daily penalties for each download or access to TikTok or other app stores is $10,000. They don’t punish people who use the system. The ban would be revoked statewide if a domestic enemy purchased the social networking site. TikTok’s ability to operate in Montana was restricted when Attorney General Austin Knudsen cracked down on apps that facilitate online sports gambling. According to Kyler Nerison of Knudsen’s office, violations can be reported by anyone. After verifying violations, the state sends the company a cease-and-desist letter.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement the law, according to cybersecurity experts, and they feel that the only reason to comply would be to avoid penalties. Lack of access to the internet would lead to more avoiding behavior. The clause was “not workable,” according to AT&T’s lobbyist, so legislators in Montana removed it to protect themselves from legal action.

TechNet, the trade group representing tech giants Apple and Google, stated that app stores are unable to geofence apps in various states, and it would be impossible to prevent TikTok from being downloaded in Montana. The responsibility of app operation should be with the app, not with the app store, as per the group’s stance. Telecoms analyst Roger Entner believes app stores may have the power to implement the law, but it would be cumbersome to execute, full of loopholes, and could be bypassed with prepaid cards that could circumvent Apple and Google’s address-linked billing. Mobile security expert Will Strafach, founder of Guardian, a privacy protection app for Apple devices, stated that IP geolocation could also be quickly masked using a virtual private network, enabling users to evade regulations, and verify using a prepaid card.

TikTok can disable the feature used for location monitoring, which can monitor users up to about 3 sq km from their actual location. TikTok is still authorized to gather approximate location details, such as the region, city, or zip code in which the user might be located, even if the feature is disabled. Cybersecurity experts have cautioned that any enforcement measures implemented by the firm are vulnerable to VPN circumvention and the use of IP geolocating may result in other issues. David Choffnes of Northeastern University’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute said cell providers may use the same IP addresses for various states, and citizens outside Montana may be prevented from accessing TikTok.

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