Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed legislation to ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state, making it the first U.S. state to ban the popular short video app.
Montana will make it unlawful for Google’s and Apple’s app stores to offer the TikTok app within its borders. The ban takes effect January 1, 2024.
TikTok has over 150 million American users, but a growing number of U.S. lawmakers and state officials are calling for a nationwide ban on the app over concerns about potential Chinese government influence on the platform.
In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew about whether the Chinese government could access user data or influence what Americans see on the app.
Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance.”
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said in a statement the bill “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok,” adding that they “will defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”
The company has previously denied that it ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said it would not do so if asked.
Montana, which has a population of just over 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violated the ban. Apple and Google could also face fines of $10,000 per violation per day if they violate the ban.
The ban will likely face numerous legal challenges on the ground that it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of users. An attempt by then-President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.
TikTok’s free speech allies include several Democratic members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Gianforte also prohibited the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices.
TikTok is working on an initiative called Project Texas, which creates a standalone entity to store American user data in the U.S. on servers operated by U.S. tech company Oracle.