HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge blocked Montana’s first-in-the-nation law that would have banned the video-sharing app TikTok in the state, calling the measure unconstitutional and overreaching.
The ruling was a temporary victory for the social media company, which had argued that the Montana Legislature’s attempt to regulate the app was excessive. A final ruling will come at a later date after the legal challenge moves through the courts.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy stated that the ban “oversteps state power and infringes on the Constitutional right of users and businesses” while singling out the state for its fixation on purported Chinese influence.
Montana passed the law in May, making it the first state in the U.S. to ban TikTok on the argument that the Chinese government could gain access to user information from TikTok, whose parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing.
The ban was set to take effect Jan. 1 and would have prohibited downloads of TikTok in the state, with fines for any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone “is offered the ability” to access or download the app. There would be no penalties for users.
TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown issued a statement saying the company was pleased that “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.”
A spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, also a Republican, tried to downplay the significance of the ruling in a statement.
Western governments have expressed worries that the popular social media platform could put sensitive data in the hands of the Chinese government or be used as a tool to spread misinformation.
More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have banned TikTok on official devices. The company has called the bans “political theatre” and says further restrictions are unnecessary due to the efforts it is taking to protect U.S. data by storing it on Oracle servers.
Attorneys for TikTok and the content creators argued that Montana had gone too far in trying to regulate TikTok and is essentially trying to implement its own foreign policy over unproven concerns that TikTok might share user data with the Chinese government.
The state hasn’t offered any evidence of TikTok’s “allegedly harmful data practices,” Molloy wrote.
American Civil Liberties Union, its Montana chapter and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy rights advocacy group, have submitted an amicus brief in support of the challenge.
Associated Press writer Haleluya Hadero contributed from New York.