Executives at ByteDance will be breathing a sigh of relief this week, after a US judge delivered a significant decision for its TikTok app.

Reuters reported that a US judge late on Thursday blocked Montana’s first-of-its kind state ban on the use of short-video sharing app TikTok from taking effect on 1 January. The judge reportedly ruled that Montana’s ban violated the free speech rights of users.

Montana in May this year had become the first US state to pass a ban on TikTok that prevented app stores from distributing the app in the state, starting on 1 January, 2024.

TikTok owner ByteDance. Image credit: ByteDance

Montana ban

Montana’s state legislature cited concerns about the personal data of Montana users and potential Chinese spying as the reasoning to ban TikTok’s use in the state.

It came after many US states, along with the US federal government, had already banned TikTok from government devices over concerns data collected by the app could be accessed by Chinese authorities. Some lawmakers are seeking a nationwide ban.

Shortly after the Montana ban, TikTok (owned by Beijing-based ByteDance), filed a lawsuit against Montana, arguing that it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of the company and users.

Montana is also being sued in federal court by five Montana TikTok users, who are seeking to block the ban.

In July TikTok asked a US judge to block enforcement of the Montana state ban before it takes effect on 1 January 2024.

And now US District Judge Donald Molloy has issued a preliminary injunction to block the ban on the Chinese-owned app, saying the state ban “violates the Constitution in more ways than one” and “oversteps state power.”

Reuters reported that TikTok welcomed the ruling, and said it was pleased 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.”

Montana response

However a spokesperson for Montana state attorney general Austin Knudsen’s office, reportedly noted the ruling was preliminary and said “the analysis could change as the case proceeds.”

Knudsen’s office reportedly added it was considering its next steps and looks “forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data.”

TikTok has always denied it would allow Chinese intelligence agencies to access the data of US citizens.

Judge Molloy reportedly found merit in numerous arguments raised by TikTok and referenced what he termed “the pervasive undertone of anti-Chinese sentiment that permeates” the state’s legal case and legislation.

Under the ban, Montana could have imposed fines of $10,000 for each violation by TikTok in the state but the state law would have not impose penalties on individual TikTok users.

Judge Molloy reportedly said Montana sought to exercise foreign policy authority held by the federal government and the state’s action was too sweeping.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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