Updated Oct 12, 2023 - Technology

Montana judge seems skeptical of state's TikTok ban

The TikTok interface is displayed on a mobile phone. Photo: CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

A Montana judge questioned Thursday the state's new TikTok ban, which will prohibit the Chinese-owned app statewide beginning in January.

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy heard arguments challenging the ban after TikTok and various creators filed a lawsuit against the state in May, alleging First Amendment violations, among other laws.

What they're saying: "Does that seem a little strange to you?" Molloy said Thursday in regard to no other state following Montana's TikTok ban, per Reuters.

  • Molloy also said Montana had a "paternalistic argument" in reference to the state saying the ban would protect users' data.
  • "Everybody on TikTok voluntarily gives their personal data. So if they want to give that information to whatever the platform is, how is it that you can protect them?" Molloy also asked, via Reuters.

The other side: Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), who is the defendant in TikTok's lawsuit, said the app was trying to use the First Amendment to "evade much-deserved scrutiny," per a statement to Axios.

  • Cantrell noted that Montana made clear "the First Amendment does not permit companies to let foreign adversaries access Montanans' data."
  • Cantrell said the app relied on "its illogical argument that Montana lacks evidence of its link to China" while also "arguing that the law is pre-empted because the company is negotiating with the federal government over China-related national security concerns."
  • "Montana's law to protect its citizens' privacy is narrowly tailored and will meet properly applied judicial scrutiny," Cantrell said.

Catch up quick: In May, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed into law the ban on TikTok, saying in a post on X that he is prohibiting the app in the state to "protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party."

  • Though most states now ban the use of TikTok on government-owned devices, Montana will be the first state to ban the app for the general public.

Zoom out: TikTok has drawn many critics, especially in Congress, where some lawmakers have labeled the app a threat to national security.

  • TikTok rejects those claims. Testifying before Congress earlier this year, CEO Shou Zi Chew downplayed TikTok's connections to China and argued it had far stronger data security practices than social media competitors.
  • Gianforte's office did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment Thursday.

What's next: Molloy told the court he planned to make a ruling in the case soon.

  • It's not yet clear how Montana will enforce the ban if it does go into effect on Jan. 1.

Go deeper: TikTok sues Montana over ban, alleging First Amendment violation

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

Go deeper