The Great Firewall of Montana: Unraveling the TikTok Ban

Montana Landscape

The state of Montana recently made headlines by voting to ban TikTok within its borders. This move by the Montana legislature has attracted both praise and criticism. As an information security expert, I can’t help but point out some technical flaws in this decision. However, it’s important to delve deeper into the reasons behind this ban and explore its potential implications on cyber policies and global privacy concerns.

The Montana Perspective

Montana, with its breathtaking landscapes and rich history, is a place many of us hold dear. The ban on TikTok in the state is a response to the lack of federal data privacy legislation and the need to protect consumers, especially children, from potential Chinese surveillance. While the intentions are valid, the approach taken by the Montana legislature may be technically flawed.

Technical Limitations

TikTok Logo

Enforcing a ban on a phone or internet app within the borders of a single state is challenging due to the nature of the internet. The internet does not recognize physical geography; it only connects based on the locations of cell towers. This means that if someone’s phone connects to a cell tower across a border, the device may think it’s in the country where that tower is located. Implementing a ban solely within Montana would require extensive surveillance and the bypassing of encryption on all internet-connected devices. This approach closely resembles China’s surveillance state and can be financially burdensome.

A Hypothetical Great Firewall

In an extreme scenario, implementing the ban would involve physically disconnecting Montana from the rest of the internet. Montana would exist in isolation, with its own internet hosted on local servers. This would block access to not only TikTok but also major online platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. The implications of such a physical and technical implementation would be far-reaching, affecting vital sectors like education, commerce, and public services.

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App Store Limitations


People have questioned why Apple and Google cannot simply turn off TikTok access in Montana. The answer lies in the limitations of regional settings within app stores. The app stores categorize apps based on countries and regions, with no specific categorization for individual states. Turning off access to TikTok for users with Montana billing addresses might be an option, but it could easily be circumvented using tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) that mask internet locations.

The First Amendment Challenge

Montana State Capitol

The ban’s implications raise concerns about potential First Amendment infringements. Determining whether someone can access a cultural and news hub like TikTok becomes a constitutional issue. Legal experts believe that lawsuits filed by TikTok and content creators are likely to succeed. Defending against these lawsuits will be costly, potentially leading to taxpayer dollars being spent on curtailing the constitutional rights of Montana’s own citizens.

Constitutional Quandary

If the ban were to go into effect, it is highly likely that judicial intervention would prevent the trampling of the First Amendment. Extreme options, such as severing Montana from the rest of the internet, may have more legal legitimacy than the current ban attempt. Additionally, any attempt to hold encryption keys or bypass privacy protections would face Fourth Amendment challenges protecting citizens from warrantless surveillance.

The Montana Legislature finds itself in a constitutional quandary, and they will have to either reconsider their position, isolate Montana from the internet at large, or face prolonged legal battles. In the midst of this controversy, I eagerly anticipate my next backpacking trip to Montana, where we can discuss these matters over a wifi connection. Just like the good old college days, right?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any specific organization or entity.

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