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Montana's ban on TikTok may be hard to enforce


Montana has become the first state in the country to ban TikTok. Under the ban, the social media platform will be fined for operating the app in the state, and app stores will be fined for making it available to download. The law was signed last week and is set to go into effect in January, but it's already facing legal challenges and raising questions, like, is it even all that feasible to ban an app like TikTok in a single state? Wired.com senior writer Lily Hay Newman is here to talk to us more about this. Hello.

LILY HAY NEWMAN: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: Let's start off with the ban itself. So how is it possible to ban an app in a single state? How would this work?

NEWMAN: Well, the app stores are saying that it can't work - that it's not technically feasible. And the - this ban does not apply to TikTok in the browser, so internet service providers are not subject to filtering out this content on your computer. This is just about the app, you know, on your mobile phone. Right there, there's a lot of pressure being put just on the app stores to somehow implement this, even though, really, the service won't be banned in Montana anyway.

RASCOE: What if you traveled to a different state? Could you then just use it? Would you be fine?

NEWMAN: Yeah, you could download it there. You could go back to Montana.

RASCOE: And them come - and then go back to Montana?


RASCOE: I mean, it seems like if this is all so difficult to actually enforce, does that make this law just symbolic?

NEWMAN: Well, yes. I mean, I think there's a whole - that's the whole separate issue, which is that proponents of this law in Montana have said that the goal of it is to address the fact that TikTok's parent company is the Chinese-owned ByteDance and that they have national security and Montana state-level security concerns. But by approaching it in this way, they are creating this really prominent speech issue because officials in Montana have also talked about how a big motivation for this law is simply that they've heard concerns from parents and other constituents about the type of content that's on TikTok. That means that really, what this law is trying to do is keep people from saying and hearing legal speech.

RASCOE: Well, after the law was signed last week, TikTok users did file a lawsuit challenging the ban on First Amendment grounds. Can you talk about that argument that you were just kind of laying out - the idea that by restricting these apps, you're restricting people's ability to communicate and to share their thoughts?

NEWMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think this really gets at - what are the tenets of digital rights and speech online? And the purported concern is about the ownership of this parent company being based in China, but China itself is famous - infamous for having developed massive capabilities to restrict and censor speech online. And so, you know, it's kind of a stark contrast here that Montana is attempting to address this national security concern, you know, in the U.S. by essentially moving towards adopting the, you know, restrictive and authoritarian policies that China has imposed on its own citizens.

RASCOE: Well, what has been the response from TikTok to this?

NEWMAN: TikTok has maintained that there is not technical feasibility to do this and also that their app does not pose the privacy and security concerns that folks in Montana and others have alleged.

RASCOE: There has been reporting, though - and I think we've talked about this on WEEKEND EDITION before - that there are real concerns about potential information gathering by TikTok. There has been reporting on that, right?

NEWMAN: Yes, definitely. There are concerns about specific data that TikTok employees have had access to. It's not to say that it is completely not an area to look at, but I think pursuing it from a perspective of restricting speech is not compatible with tenets of the open internet.

RASCOE: Lily Hay Newman - she is a senior writer at wired.com. Thank you so much for joining us.

NEWMAN: It's my pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.