The Montana legislature took a step toward approving a bill on Thursday that would forbid TikTok from operating there.
While this action is sure to encounter legal hurdles, it would also serve as a trial run for the TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned.
The proposal in Montana, which has the support of the state’s GOP-controlled legislature, is more comprehensive than the restrictions on TikTok that are in place in nearly half the states and the federal government of the United States.
On Thursday, the House approved the bill 60-39. Before sending the bill to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte, the House will probably vote one last time on Friday.
In Montana, he has outlawed TikTok on official devices. In March, the Senate approved the measure 30-20.
The Chinese internet startup ByteDance’s TikTok has come under close examination because of worries that it may provide user data to the Chinese government or disseminate propaganda and false information in favor of Beijing on the site.
However, none of the leaders at the FBI, CIA, or multiple congressmen from both parties have offered any proof to support their claims.
Supporters of a ban cite two Chinese regulations requiring businesses to assist the government in conducting state intelligence operations.
They also draw attention to other problematic incidents, such as ByteDance’s December announcement that the company had dismissed four employees for accessing the IP addresses and additional information of two journalists to determine the source of a leaked document.
Though it doesn’t mention TikTok, the proposed legislation would allow the Commerce Department to limit foreign threats on tech platforms.
Although the White House supports that law, privacy groups, right-wing commentators, and others have opposed it, arguing that the language is too broad.
Austin Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general, advised state legislators to approve the measure because he doubted that Congress would swiftly enact a nationwide ban.
Republican Knudsen told a House committee in March that Montana could take the lead. He claims that the software is a device the Chinese government uses to eavesdrop on residents of Montana.
The law would make it illegal to download TikTok in Montana and OK any “entity”—such as an app store or TikTok—$10,000 every day for each occasion when a user “is offered the ability” to visit the social networking site or download the app.
Users would not be subject to fines.
The planned ban, according to opponents, could be readily avoided by homeowners by using a Virtual Private Network, and the bill amounted to government overreach.
A VPN encrypts internet traffic, making it more challenging for hackers to steal data, track online activities, and pinpoint a person’s location.
A TechNet spokesperson said that app shops “cannot geofence” programs on a state-by-state basis and that it would be impossible for its members, Apple and Google, to stop TikTok from being downloaded in Montana at a hearing for the bill in March.
The geofencing technology, according to Knudsen, is utilized with online sports betting apps, which are turned off in jurisdictions where online gambling is prohibited.
In a statement released Thursday, Ashley Sutton, TechNet’s executive director for Washington State and the Northwest, stated, “It should be up to an app to decide where it can operate, not an app store.”