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Scrap Montana’s rights-abusing TikTok ban 

Montana must immediately repeal its new rights-abusing TikTok ban and instead focus on adopting a human rights solution to combating social media data collection and security alarms.

In the face of outcry from federal lawmakers, civil society, and human rights defenders, Governor Greg Gianforte this week signed into law a statewide ban on social media applications owned by “foreign adversaries,” a move aimed primarily at the social media platform TikTok. Gianforte also issued a separate executive order prohibiting the use of any social media application “tied to foreign adversaries” on all state government devices. The courts must intervene before the ban takes effect on January 1, 2024.

Montana must not be allowed to legitimize digital authoritarianism. Banning social media applications across the entire state not only violates the rights of people in and traveling through Montana but could offer a justification — and inspiration — to repressive governments seeking to censor information and enact retaliatory bans. Overreaching censorship across apps like TikTok will only feed internet fragmentation and choke the free flow of information and freedom of expression. Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now

State and federal proposals have been part of growing efforts to restrict TikTok in the U.S., raising fundamental red flags around government overreach when it comes to digital rights and highlighting the urgent need to seriously address how companies collect, use, and monetize personal data.

The Montana ban will prohibit TikTok from operating within the state and prevent app stores from allowing people in Montana to download the TikTok application. Companies found to be enabling downloads will initially face a fine of 10,000 USD, with an additional 10,000 USD penalty imposed for each day the violation continues. 

While Montana has taken the unprecedented step of implementing a statewide ban on downloads and usage of TikTok for everyone in its borders, limited bans have already been issued at the federal and state level for government-owned devices, as well as on university networks. For example, over 20 universities have removed TikTok from their servers. At the federal level, President Joe Biden signed a ban prohibiting the federal government’s nearly four million employees from using TikTok on devices owned by its agencies.

Addressing data protection and privacy abuses requires meaningful dialogue and comprehensive policy approaches that balance individual rights, innovation, and societal benefits. Access Now urges Montana lawmakers to address the complexities of data governance and protection without compromising robust privacy protections and transparency data practices.