Last week, Montana prohibited Google and Apple from listing TikTok in their app stores, effectively banning the popular video-sharing platform within the state. The legislation, entitled SB 419, specifies that TikTok “may not operate within the territorial jurisdiction of Montana.” It is the first state ban of its kind, though likely not the last.
There are substantial national security concerns stemming from TikTok’s inseparable ties to the Chinese government. Over the years, TikTok has censored human rights videos, accessed clipboard content on users’ devices, and collected children’s data without consent. In March, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned CEO Shou Chew about the company’s obligations under Chinese law, in addition to evidence of spying.
On the federal level, legislators and other public officials have tried to address the TikTok problem through several means. Under both the Trump and Biden administrations, an inter-agency committee known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been scrutinizing TikTok and its presence in the country. CFIUS has the authority to review business deals involving domestic and foreign parties and may order changes to protect national security. As noted by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-RI) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), the committee can impose structural restrictions, such as separating TikTok’s American operations from its Chinese parent company.
In March, a bipartisan coalition of senators, including Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (“RESTRICT”) Act, which would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to review and prohibit transactions between Americans and foreign adversaries. If enacted, the proposed legislation would empower public officials to ban TikTok and other technology products that pose an “undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the safety of United States persons.” The White House has praised the bill as a “systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats.”
Ultimately, a nationwide TikTok ban would be far more difficult to implement than small-scale or localized ones, such as Montana’s legislation or the prohibition on government-issued mobile devices. Still, once the Montana ban is implemented in January 2024, it may provide some guideposts for the national policies that are beginning to take form.