A Montana law that would ban the use of TikTok is not justified by national security concerns, the tech industry group NetChoice says in a letter urging Governor Greg Gianforte to veto the bill.
“While national security concerns are of paramount importance, they must not be weaponized against politically disfavored businesses and individuals,” NetChoice vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo writes. “Banning access on privately bought and privately owned devices is an extraordinary exercise of government power -- and it’s an unjustified and unconstitutional means to protecting national security.”
NetChoice's members include TikTok as well as competing social platforms -- including Google and Meta.
Late last week, lawmakers in Montana passed a bill that would prohibit app stores from offering TikTok to users in Montana, and prohibit from people from using TikTok in the state (with some exceptions for law enforcement and other governmental functions).
The measure doesn't penalize users, but provides for sanctions starting at $10,000 against TikTok and mobile app stores.
State lawmakers passed the bill largely due to concerns that TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, may share data collected in the U.S. with China.
NetChoice says it agrees that the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, is a security threat, but says banning TikTok isn't the appropriate response.
“Rather than target businesses based on their country of origin ... NetChoice supports efforts to hold the CCP -- the true threat -- accountable,” Szabo writes. “Banning TikTok on privately owned devices -- and punishing private third parties like app stores -- does nothing to weaken the CCP. Instead, it punishes Montanans who enjoy TikTok and American businesses lawfully engaged in commerce and speech dissemination.”
NetChoice also argues that the bill both conflicts with the First Amendment -- which protects distribution of legal speech -- and “sets a dangerous precedent” that could be followed in other states.
“Imposing liability on app stores would be a backdoor attempt at blocking access to constitutionally protected speech -- states like California could prohibit app stores from offering Parler or TruthSocial on the grounds that, because the underlying apps are dangerous, the app stores must act as roving government censors,” the organization says.