Montana Legislature Approves Unprecedented TikTok Ban: A Deep Dive

KEY TAKEAWAYS
​​Montana has become the first state to approve a wholesale ban on TikTok, affecting almost all devices in the state, over concerns that the app could be used by the Chinese government for espionage purposes.
The ban is set to take effect in January 2024, and could potentially set the stage for similar bans in other Republican-led states and pave the way for a nationwide ban.
Critics argue that the Montana bill amounts to censorship and violates the First Amendment, affecting users' freedom of expression.
Banning TikTok raises potential risks, especially if users resort to bypassing built-in security mechanisms to access the app.
The enforceability of a TikTok ban remains unlikely and could inadvertently increase cybersecurity risks instead of mitigating them.

 

Montana has made history as the first state legislature to approve a wholesale ban on TikTok, affecting nearly all devices in the state.

The bill, SB 419, has already been approved by the state senate and now awaits Governor Greg Gianforte’s signature.

Once signed, the ban will take effect in January 2024. This development could set the stage for similar bans in other Republican-led states and possibly pave the way for a nationwide ban.

The Montana TikTok Ban: How It Works

The primary goal of SB 419 is to prohibit TikTok from operating “within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana,” over fears the app could be manipulated by the Chinese government for espionage purposes.

If TikTok or app stores violate the law, Montana’s Department of Justice could impose penalties of up to $10,000 per day for the length of the violation.

These fines would apply to entities facilitating TikTok’s download rather than the app’s users.

State Senator Shelley Vance, one of the bill’s primary authors, has argued that “TikTok endangers the safety of Montanans and Americans at large.”

Vance claims that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, operates as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will.

However, it is crucial to emphasize that there is no concrete evidence to support the notion that the Chinese government has used TikTok to surveil American users.

While ByteDance employees in China have been able to view US user data, a direct link between the app and Chinese government surveillance has not been established.

Critics Raise Censorship and First Amendment Concerns

Critics of the Montana bill, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argue that it amounts to censorship and violates the First Amendment, affecting users’ freedom of expression.

In a statement, ACLU senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff said, “Montanans deserve better than to have their representatives violate their free speech rights by cutting them off from a unique platform that allows them to speak their minds, exchange information, and learn new things.”

A TikTok spokesperson stated that the bill would likely be challenged in court, as they continue to fight for users and creators in Montana whose First Amendment rights are threatened by this government overreach.

In a statement, ACLU senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff said, “Montanans deserve better than to have their representatives violate their free speech rights by cutting them off from a unique platform that allows them to speak their minds, exchange information, and learn new things.”

The Cybersecurity Implications of a TikTok Ban

Banning TikTok raises potential risks, especially if users resort to bypassing built-in security mechanisms to access the app.

Blocking access to TikTok could lead to a game of cat and mouse, with server addresses constantly changing.

Users may bypass the ban using virtual private networks (VPNs) or DNS sinkholes. These methods, while circumventing the ban, could expose users to risks associated with unverified DNS servers or malicious servers controlled by criminals.

Challenges of Implementing a TikTok App Ban

Blocking the TikTok mobile app would not affect users’ ability to access the website but could change the frequency and method of access.

While removing the app from app stores may not be effective by itself, users might resort to sideloading apps from alternative sources.

This process shifts the responsibility of verifying an app’s legitimacy to the user and increases the risk of downloading malicious apps.

Enforcing a TikTok ban would likely necessitate removing the app from mobile devices.

Users may be motivated to jailbreak their iOS devices or root their Android devices to prevent app removal, actions that further weaken device security.

A TikTok ban’s enforceability remains unlikely and could encourage users to engage in riskier digital behavior.

The potential security tradeoffs of such a ban should be carefully considered, as the legislation could inadvertently increase cybersecurity risks instead of mitigating them.

Craig Miller

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