As expected, TikTok has launched a legal challenge against Montana’s decision to ban the app in the state.
Last Wednesday, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the state outright, in order to protect residents from intelligence-gathering operations by China. At the time, TikTok vowed to fight for its users in the region, and today, it’s announced its next step:
We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana. We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts.— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) May 22, 2023
TikTok says that Montana’s ruling violates the first amendment, and it will be seeking to halt the bill from becoming law before its January 2024 implementation date.
It’s the first proposed full ban on the app in the US, which comes amid various security concerns raised by cyber experts, including top spy agencies in various regions. As China continues to escalate tensions with neighboring regions, and threaten to challenge the US on different fronts, the view is that the government could indeed use TikTok as a vector for intelligence – which parent company ByteDance already has in the case of at least one US journalist.
Last December, The Financial Times reported that four employees from ByteDance’s internal audit team had gained access to the IP addresses and other personal data of FT journalist Cristina Criddle, in order to work out how she was sourcing internal information on the company. By cross-matching her location with that of ByteDance staff, the group sought to identify who might be leaking info to the press.
That’s just one example of how TikTok data could potentially be used to track and trace US citizens, which is why security experts have been ringing the alarm bells on the app for two years.
As such, Montana’s new ban could end up being the first of many – which is why TikTok needs to take it on straight away, and challenge the legality of its approach.
But regardless of the outcome, it still may not save TikTok in the US – with reports also indicating that TikTok’s US integration and data separation plans are not as advanced as TikTok has suggested.
TikTok says that it’s spent billions on building new, separate data centers in the US, in partnership with Oracle. But according to a new report from The Information, Oracle is not in lock-step with TikTok as to the progress of the initiative.
That likely won’t be viewed favorably by White House officials, who are still weighing a potential TikTok ban. As such, even if it can stave off Montana’s new law, it may not be able to remain in the US, long-term.
There’s still a lot to come on this, and there's six months before any ban takes effect. But as we have for over 18 months, we await the full recommendations of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and how the White House views TikTok, which will then dictate the way forward for the platform.