It's not easy for the US to ban TikTok
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It’s not easy for the US to ban TikTok

A group of demonstrators protest against the ban on TikTok in Washington, USA, in March 2023 - Photo: AFP

A group of demonstrators protest against the ban on TikTok in Washington, USA, in March 2023 – Photo: AFP

However, Montana’s ban is expected to be neither legally nor technologically easy.

After concerns over China’s access to user data on TikTok led to more than 25 US states banning the app on government devices, Montana took it a step further by banning TikTok altogether. This move was immediately sued by TikTok and faced the issue of how to enforce the ban.

legal battle

According to the ban signed by Governor Greg Gianforte on May 17 and expected to take effect from January 2024, TikTok will be fined $10,000 for each time a user accesses this social network, with the possibility of being fined even more. $10,000 per day if that user continues to use it. Additionally, the Google Play and App Store app stores will also be fined the same amount if users in Montana download TikTok on their devices.

The latest move shows the tough attitude of US lawmakers towards this online platform, despite explanations and criticism from Beijing and after the CEO of TikTok also testified before the US Congress on September 3-2023.

What worries policymakers in the United States and many other countries is a 2017 Chinese law that requires domestic companies to comply when the government requests that data be turned over for national security purposes.

In addition, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also warned that Beijing could interfere with the algorithms of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to spread fake news. As of writing, President Joe Biden’s administration wants TikTok to “sell itself” to the US market if it doesn’t want to be banned.

It’s unclear how Montana’s ban will be implemented. Attorney General Austin Knudsen thinks it’s possible to use “geo-blocking” technology that restricts online gambling to ban TikTok. However, cybersecurity experts are “shaken” by the possibility of a full implementation of the ban.

Online app stores cannot implement this technology for every app, and therefore TikTok will be primarily responsible for implementing the ban, while the US also lacks tools to control people’s access to the network.

Furthermore, the ban will also face major legal challenges and TikTok has filed a lawsuit in Montana, naming Mr. Knudsen. TikTok CEO Chew Zi Shou is confident of victory because he thinks Montana’s decision violates the right to free speech protected by the US Constitution, while also being based solely on “unfounded” suspicions.

So far, there is no evidence that China interferes with TikTok, while Beijing and the platform have said it does not. However, Mr. Knudsen said he was prepared to go to court to defend Montana’s ban.

Internet fragmentation risk

Despite the challenges, American policymakers’ anxiety seems to be growing. The bipartisan consensus on banning TikTok raises questions about whether other US states will follow Montana’s lead and whether the US Congress could impose a nationwide ban. In March 2023, the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs also passed legislation that gives President Biden the power to ban TikTok.

This is due in part to rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China. However, experts say this has provoked retaliation between the two countries. More broadly, the movement also increases the dangerous fragmentation of the Internet.

Meanwhile, activists and analysts say banning TikTok cannot solve the data security problem while restricting freedom of expression.

“In democracies, the government cannot ban free speech or free speech without having an extremely strong and appropriate basis for doing so. Obviously, we don’t have that basis yet.” The New York Times quoted Caitlin Chin, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as she said.

In which countries is TikTok banned?

The main bodies of the European Union, the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council, prohibit employees from using TikTok. Similarly, countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Belgium and Norway also banned TikTok, while the Netherlands encouraged the non-use of this application on government devices.

The French government bans government officials from using TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and many other apps for “entertainment”. Countries participating in the TikTok ban include the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, and recently Austria.

In the US, TikTok has been banned on federal devices as of February 2023, and more than half of states have also banned installing the app on government devices. On May 17, Montana became the first state to completely ban TikTok.

In India, TikTok lost the biggest market in the world with 200 million users when the government here completely banned TikTok and some Chinese apps from 2020. TikTok was also completely banned in some countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran. Furthermore, the territory of Taiwan has also banned TikTok on public devices from 2022.

How to enforce a TikTok ban?How to enforce a TikTok ban?

TTCT – Montana just became the first US state to pass a law to completely ban TikTok. Regardless of whether it is right or wrong or not, how feasible is it to enforce such a ban?

What do you think?

Written by Esme Dominguez

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