HELENA — A bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the Treasure State has passed a key vote in the Montana House on Thursday.
Senate Bill 419 cleared its second reading 60 to 39 with bipartisan support and objection. The legislation now moves to a final vote in the House and if it passes will then head to the desk of Governor Greg Gianforte.
The federal government and state agencies in Montana have already banned TikTok on government devices. SB 419 goes further and extends to personal devices stating that “Tiktok may not operate within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana.” The legislation also prevents the mobile app from being downloaded in the state. If the bill was to become law, the Montana Department of Justice would fine app stores or TikTok $10,000 for each discrete violation and $10,000 for each day that a violation continues.
The bill only impacts the distribution of the app, it does not have any penalties for TikTok users.
SB 419 passed the Senate on March 2 by a vote of 30 to 20, also with bipartisan support and objection.
Supporters said the ban is needed due to TikTok being owned by a Chinese company and collecting a large amount of data on users. The bill's primary sponsor Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, said at a February 27 Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs meeting that there is significant concern that data is being used against American interests and companies.
“After years of investigative reporting we now know this to be true, TicTok endangers the safety of Montanans and Americans at large,” said Vance. “We know that beyond a doubt that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will.”
TikTok has denied the claim and some Montana businesses have said banning the app would take away a key platform for advertising.
“Small businesses like me, I don't just sell to Montanans, I sell everywhere," Caroline Nelson, owner of Little Creek Lamb and Beef, told MTN’s Kristin Merkel in March. "So if I can't market on TikTok or on any social platform, it puts Montanans at a unique disadvantage compared to other small businesses in other states."
TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas told U.S. senators in a hearing last September no person who makes a strategic decision at TikTok is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. At the same hearing, Pappas did admit that China-based employees had accessed data from American users in the past.
In a statement regarding SB 419, Pappas said:
Every day, Montanans come to TikTok to learn something new, to share their voice and creativity, to chronicle Montana's natural beauty, and to help build their businesses. This piece of legislation is an egregious violation of Montanans' free speech rights, and it will close off Montana from the 100 million strong TikTok community in the United States. We hope that Montana legislators will consider those serious consequences—and the disastrous precedent they're setting—and weigh them against the deeply flawed arguments put forward to justify this ban.