In a recent hearing, U.S. district judge Donald Molloy raised questions about Montana’s decision to ban TikTok.
The judge, Donald Molloy, expressed skepticism and noted that the state’s reasoning for restricting the popular social media app was perplexing.
The case revolves around TikTok and five Montana content creators who are seeking to prevent the state’s impending ban, scheduled to take effect on January 1st.
Judge Molloy termed the impending ban as “paternalistic,” and after an hour of deliberation, he concluded the hearing without making a ruling regarding the request for an injunction to halt the digital prohibition.
The judge’s primary concern was with the state’s argument.
He found it confusing that Montana sought to protect consumers from data theft when TikTok users willingly shared their personal data with the platform.
The judge questioned how such protection could be achieved when users voluntarily provide their information.
Montana made history by becoming the first state in the United States to impose a complete ban on TikTok back in May.
The state’s rationale behind the ban was its belief that the Chinese government might access user data through TikTok, given that its parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing.
Under this law, TikTok downloads would be prohibited in Montana, and fines of $10,000 per day would be imposed on any entity, including app stores and TikTok itself, whenever someone is offered the ability to access or download the app. Users themselves would not face penalties.
In its request for a preliminary injunction, TikTok argued that the app has been in use since 2017 and that allowing Montanans to continue using it would not harm the state.
The company contended that Montana’s law was based on “unsubstantiated allegations,” arguing that the state could have chosen to pass a law that required TikTok to limit its data collection or implement parental controls instead of resorting to an outright ban.
Judge Molloy stated that the state had not provided sufficient evidence to support its claims of spying by TikTok. TikTok, in its legal filings, argued that Montana’s lawsuit ignores the fact that the app has neither shared nor intends to share U.S. user data.
Molloy questioned Montana’s solicitor general, Christian Corrigan, about whether his office had found any evidence in TikTok’s records to counter this claim, to which Corrigan responded that they had not.
Molloy criticized the rationale behind the lawsuit, referring to it as “paternalistic.” He remarked that the argument implies that people do not know what they are doing and, as a result, the state must step in to “ban TikTok” to prevent citizens from exercising their liberties or rights.
Content creators opposing the ban claim that it infringes on free speech rights and could potentially harm their businesses.
Notably, over half of U.S. states and the federal government have already taken steps to ban TikTok on official devices.
Utah, for instance, recently sued TikTok, accusing the company of deceptive marketing practices, particularly in relation to safety and parental controls.
TikTok has responded by characterizing these bans as “political theater” and argues that further restrictions are unwarranted.
Chinese Government Has Access to Data
The company has emphasized its efforts to safeguard U.S. user data by storing it on Oracle servers. Western governments have expressed concerns about TikTok’s potential to expose sensitive data to the Chinese government or to serve as a tool for spreading misinformation.
Chinese law allows the government to compel companies to assist in gathering intelligence.
TikTok, which is engaged in negotiations with the federal government regarding its future in the U.S., has consistently denied allegations of sharing sensitive data with the Chinese government.
The Challenge to the Ban
In support of the challenge against the ban, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its Montana chapter, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy rights advocacy group, have submitted an amicus brief.
On the other side, 18 attorneys general from mostly Republican-led states are supporting Montana’s stance and urging the judge to allow the ban to be implemented.
Nevertheless, cybersecurity experts have cautioned that enforcing such bans may pose challenges.
In a recent report by the U.S. State Department on Chinese disinformation, it alleged that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, seeks to prevent potential critics of Beijing, including those outside of China, from using its platforms.
Montana TikTok users were outraged over the proposed ban, with one user posting online, ‘We have terrible roads but they’re banning an app.’
Another user was not happy with the purported government overreach, commenting, “The government doing the parenting…. seems to be a thing these days.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Burlingham