Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- A bill introduced into the Senate Business Labor and Economic Affairs Committee Monday would prohibit internet service providers or any other company from allowing anyone within Montana’s borders access to the app TikTok under the threat of a $10,000 fine per incident compounded daily until people are no longer able to access the app. 

Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 419

“TikTok endangers the safety of Montanans and Americans at large. We know 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 through TikTok, which markets itself as a harmless mobile app for teenagers to join viral dance trends and funny and-- post funny content,” Vance said.  

Should the ban be enacted, it would only penalize internet service providers and other companies who allow the public access to the app in Montana, not users themselves. 

There were three proponents of the bill representing the state Department of Justice and the cybersecurity industry. They said TikTok can gather information like IP addresses, users’ location, what type of device a user is on and more.

Eric Tarr is the information security officer under the Information Technology Services Division in the Department of Justice. He said TikTok is exporting roughly 36% of the data it collects from users back to China -- something users who accepted the privacy settings already said was OK. 

“Looking at the privacy policies between, say, Instagram or TikTok -- two social media apps that people use all the time. TikTok is blatantly saying this is what they're doing. Instagram, you actually have to go out there and approve them to take that information from you,” Tarr said. 

There was only one opponent of the bill. Shane Scanlon represented AT&T. He said its opposition didn’t have to do with Montana’s policy on TikTok, but rather the way they decided to implement it.

He said holding internet service providers accountable for giving users access to TikTok isn’t feasible. He said an ISP is like a highway, sure they provide access to the internet but they don’t control what people do online. He said regulating where the app is allowed to function could be a different solution. 

“With gambling applications, if you're in one state where it's legal to online gamble and you have that app, you can use it no problem.You cross into another state where you can't use the app, you can't use it. And it's on that application's ability, the app store, the application to be able to distinguish between the both,” Scanlon said.  

There are already similar, albeit smaller-scope bans on TikTok in Montana. The Montana University System banned use of the app on its Wi-Fi January 20 after the State of Montana banned use of the app on all state-owne devices in December.