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Saturday March 02, 2024

US federal judge blocks Montana’s ban on TikTok

Five content creators sued Montana, claiming signed bill to ban TikTok infringed on their freedom of speech

By Web Desk
December 01, 2023
This illustration shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom). — AFP/File
This illustration shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom). — AFP/File

A state law that would ban TikTok in Montana next year was blocked Thursday by US District Judge Donald Molloy who issued a preliminary injunction, saying it “oversteps state power and infringes on the constitutional rights of users,”  NBC News reported citing court documents.

Montana, the first state to ban TikTok, imposed the ban in May when Governor Greg Gianforte signed the bill set to take effect in January 2024 and would have a $10,000 penalty for users every time they were offered the app's download.

Additionally, its enforcement would be handled by the Montana Justice Department, with TikTok and app stores held liable, not the users.

Five content creators — Samantha Alario, Heather DiRocco, Carly Ann Goddard, Alice Held, and Dale Stout — sued Montana after the bill was signed, claiming it infringed on their freedom of speech and exercised "power over national security" that Montana does not have.

TikTok, which is owned by the China-based ByteDance, also sued the state.

In an email statement, a spokesperson for TikTok said the platform is "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."

Ambika Kumar, the lead counsel representing the TikTok creators, said in a statement that they were, "delighted that the judge recognised that the ban is unwarranted and unconstitutional.”

In response to Molloy's decision, Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for the Montana Attorney General's office, said, "This is a preliminary matter at this point."

“The judge indicated several times that the analysis could change as the case proceeds and the State has the opportunity to present a full factual record," she said in an email statement.

The email continued: "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.”

While a spokesperson for Gianforte’s office did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment, Molloy, during an October 12 hearing in Missoula, grilled representatives of the state attorney general’s office.

He asked whether Montana Solicitor General Christian Corrigan found it “a little strange” that no other state had followed Montana’s lead in banning TikTok.