Updated Nov 30, 2023 - Technology

Federal judge blocks Montana's TikTok ban

Illustration of a gavel hovering over a phone with an image on the screen of a gavel hovering over a phone, in a recursive pattern.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge on Thursday blocked Montana's ban of TikTok.

Why it matters: The law prohibiting the use of the Chinese-owned app in the state was due to take effect on Jan. 1.

The big picture: While a growing number of Republican-led states implemented TikTok bans on government-issued devices after the FBI warned of possible threats to national security, Montana was the first state to move to impose a statewide total ban on the app.

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in a preliminary injunction Thursday the ban "oversteps state power and infringes on the constitutional rights of users."

  • The judge appeared skeptical last month during hearing arguments challenging the ban after TikTok and various creators filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging First Amendment violations.
  • "Despite the State's attempt to defend SB 419 as a consumer protection bill, the current record leaves little doubt that Montana's legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China's ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers," Molloy said.

What we're watching: "The legality of the ban itself will be decided later in a bench trial that has yet to be scheduled," per the Wall Street Journal.

What they're saying: "We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data," a spokesperson for the state's attorney general, said in a Thursday evening email.

Meanwhile, a TikTok spokesperson told Axios Thursday evening: "We are pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok."

Go deeper: Montana TikTok ban faces First Amendment legal challenge

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details on the preliminary injunction and with comment from spokespeople for Montana's attorney general and TikTok.

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