Federal judge blocks Montana’s TikTok ban, garnering support from civil rights and tech groups

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2nd December 2023 – (Los Angeles) A federal judge’s order blocking Montana’s ban on TikTok from taking effect has received praise from civil rights and technology organisations in the United States. The judge issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday, stating that a statewide prohibition on the popular social media app likely violates free speech rights.

The ruling has been welcomed by industry experts and civil rights groups that strongly opposed the law passed by Montana legislators in April. This law is the first of its kind in the United States, seeking to ban an app entirely across a state.

TikTok, in a statement on X (formerly Twitter), expressed satisfaction with the judge’s rejection of the unconstitutional law, allowing hundreds of thousands of Montanans to continue expressing themselves, earning a living, and finding community on the platform.

Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel of the tech industry group NetChoice, emphasised the unconstitutionality of the law, stating, “The government may not block our ability to access constitutionally protected speech—whether it is in a newspaper, on a website, or via an app.”

Szabo further added, “In passing this law, Montana’s government ignored the Constitution, harmed its businesses and creators, chilled innovation, and disconnected Montanans. The court’s decision to block this law is correct.”

NetChoice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) all filed amicus briefs in support of TikTok. The ACLU and EFF hailed Thursday’s ruling as a significant victory for the people of Montana, preserving their access to TikTok as a vital platform for communication, information, and self-expression.

The ACLU led a coalition of rights groups that sent a joint letter to Montana legislators, arguing that the ban is unjustified on national security grounds. Alex Rate, Legal Director at the ACLU of Montana, stated, “With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature tried to trample on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment. We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”

The ACLU emphasized that TikTok plays an important role for communities of color, including Indigenous communities, in Montana. These communities use the platform to foster solidarity online and raise awareness of issues vital to them.

The ruling ensures that TikTok can continue to serve this purpose and reaffirms the unique ways in which Montanans rely on the app to communicate and engage with others locally and globally.

EFF’s Civil Liberties Director David Greene stated that the judge’s decision protects the rights of Montanans to use TikTok as a platform for speech. The ruling is also expected to have broader implications for other attempts, at both the state and federal levels, to impose draconian bans on TikTok.