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Montana governor wants to expand state TikTok ban to potentially include other social media platforms

A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Gianforte said the changes are intended to strengthen the original bill, which was passed this month.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 16, 2022.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, pictured in Orlando, Fla., in November, proposed banning "social media applications that provide certain data to foreign adversaries."Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP file

The governor of Montana has proposed changes to the language of a bill that seeks to ban TikTok in the state, according to documents obtained by NBC News.

Gov. Greg Gianforte's proposed amendment, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, strikes out any mention of TikTok or TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, and instead stipulates the ban would be applied to "social media applications that provide certain data to foreign adversaries."

"A social media app may not operate within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana" if that app allows personal data or information to be collected and "provided to a foreign adversary or a person or entity located within a country designated as a foreign adversary," the proposed amendment reads.

The amendment for consideration seeks to improve the bill by broadening Montanans’ privacy protections beyond just TikTok and against all foreign adversaries, while also addressing the bill’s technical and legal concerns.

-Kaitlin Price, the governor's press secretary

Some in the field of technology and free speech said they have concerns about the drafted amendment, including the lack of definitions of "data collection" and "social media application." Two experts who spoke to NBC News said the amendment only worsens an already problematic bill.

A spokesperson for Gianforte said the changes are intended to strengthen the bill.

“The amendment for consideration seeks to improve the bill by broadening Montanans’ privacy protections beyond just TikTok and against all foreign adversaries, while also addressing the bill’s technical and legal concerns," said Kaitlin Price, the governor's press secretary.

The original bill, which lawmakers passed on April 14, was expected to face legal challenges.

Ari Cohn, a free speech counsel at TechFreedom, described the amendment as “deeply stupid and an exercise in completely missing the point.”

Cohn suggested the amendment could exacerbate the bill’s legal woes.

The issue wasn't that the bill singled out TikTok, but rather that “the Montana Legislature was attempting to cut users off from an entire forum for expression, purportedly over national security concerns that were vague and generalized," Cohn said.

TikTok has come under fire by critics who say the app is a national security threat given its ability to collect data on its users, with some noting much of the user base is teens and young adults. However, other security experts argue the app is no more a security threat than the many other apps that collect data and point to the lack of any broad U.S. data privacy regulations. 

In addition to targeting just TikTok, the initial bill also banned the Apple App Store and Google's Google Play from providing the app for download to residents of Montana. Both TikTok and the stores that allowed users to download it would be subjected to a $10,000 fine per day.

Google and Apple did not respond to a request for comment. TikTok also did not respond to a request for comment.

In the newly drafted amendment, the language holding the stores accountable for providing TikTok for download has been removed.

The original bill, which passed by a vote of 54-43, was slated to take effect next year. The drafted amendment maintains that starting date.

Questions remain about how the bill would be enforced if it becomes law.

Caitlin Vogus, deputy director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that in order for a social media company to abide by the law, it will likely need to track its users' location, thereby incentivizing data collection.

"Ironically, a bill that is supposed to be about protecting user privacy may instead encourage apps to collect location data so they can make sure that they're steering clear of this prohibition if they are, in fact banned in Montana," Vogus said.

Kyler Nerison, the communications director for the Montana Attorney General, told NBC News in a statement earlier this month that his office would investigate violations of the bill if it becomes law. The fines enacted by the law only apply to the social media companies, not individuals who use the apps.

“The Montana Department of Justice would investigate reported violations and levy fines against the entities (i.e., TikTok and mobile application stores) if violations occur,” Nerison said.

TikTok is already banned on state devices and networks in the state of Montana. Other states have enacted bans on state-run devices and networks as well. Some public universities also restricted access to TikTok on school computers, mobile phones and Wi-Fi, in accordance with executive orders in those states banning the app on government-owned devices and networks.

The Montana bill comes amid increased scrutiny on TikTok from lawmakers across the U.S. The Biden administration is considering a ban of TikTok in the U.S. if the app’s Chinese owners refuse to sell their stakes, NBC News confirmed in March.

In response, TikTok launched a charm offensive, bringing dozens of content creators to D.C. to speak with members of Congress and to hold a press conference. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew also testified before Congress, where he was grilled about the platform.