In a significant development, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has temporarily suspended a Montana law targeting the popular social media app TikTok. The decision, issued on Thursday, introduces a preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 419, preventing its enforcement slated for January 1. The move follows a lawsuit challenging the ban, with plaintiffs, including TikTok and a group of Montana-based content creators, arguing against the constitutionality of the law.
Judge Molloy Cites Constitutional Concerns
In his order, Judge Molloy asserted that the plaintiffs had demonstrated a likelihood of success in challenging the law on its merits. He contended that the State failed to establish a connection between Senate Bill 419 and the public interest in protecting Montana consumers. According to Molloy, the legislation overstepped state power and infringed upon the constitutional rights of both users and businesses.
“While there may be a public interest in protecting Montana consumers, the State has not shown how this TikTok bill does that,” Molloy wrote. He criticized the legislation for lacking the necessary precision, stating, “The Legislature used an axe to solve its professed concerns when it should have used a constitutional scalpel.”
Law’s Foreign Policy Emphasis Questioned
Judge Molloy also raised concerns about the law’s emphasis on foreign policy, labeling it the “Achilles’ heel” of the legislation. He argued that the State did not have a significant government interest in regulating foreign affairs and pointed out that the primary focus seemed to be on targeting China’s role in TikTok rather than protecting Montana consumers.*
“Despite the State’s attempt to defend SB 419 as a consumer protection bill, the current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers,” Molloy stated.
Concerns over Data Exposure to China Debunked
Supporters of the law, led by Attorney General Austin Knudsen, had voiced concerns about TikTok potentially exposing Montanans’ data to China. The app, owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, has faced allegations that officials from the Chinese Communist Party could access information on U.S. users. However, TikTok has consistently denied such claims.
In his ruling, Molloy dismissed the foreign policy concerns as a basis for legislation, emphasizing that the State’s actions did not align with an important government interest. He pointed out that the State had already enacted a separate law aimed at protecting consumers’ digital data and privacy.
State’s Response and Future Legal Proceedings
Responding to the preliminary injunction, Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, downplayed the significance of the ruling. She stressed that the analysis could evolve as the case progressed, indicating that the State would present a complete legal argument to defend the law.
“This is a preliminary matter at this point,” Cantrell stated. “The judge indicated several times that the analysis could change as the case proceeds, and the State has the opportunity to present a full factual record. We look forward to presenting the complete legal argument to defend the law that protects Montanans from the Chinese Communist Party obtaining and using their data.”
As the legal battle continues, the fate of TikTok in Montana remains uncertain. The preliminary injunction marks a notable development in the ongoing debate over the balance between national security concerns and individual rights, particularly in the context of emerging technologies and foreign-owned applications.