Politicians from the state of Montana in the United States moved a step closer to passing a Bill to ban TikTok from operating in the state on Thursday.
The move is bound to face legal challenges but will serve as a testing ground for the TikTok-free America that many national politicians have envisioned.
Montana’s proposal, which has backing from the state’s GOP-controlled legislature, is more sweeping than bans in place in nearly half of the states and the US federal government that prohibit TikTok on government devices.
The House endorsed the bill 60-39 on Thursday.
A final House vote will likely take place on Friday before the Bill goes to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte.
He has banned TikTok on government devices in Montana. The Senate passed the Bill 30-20 in March.
Leaders at the FBI, CIA and numerous politicians from both parties have raised the concerns but have not presented any evidence to prove it has happened.
Supporters of a ban point to two Chinese laws that compel companies in the country to cooperate with the government on state intelligence work.
They also point out other troubling episodes, such as a disclosure by ByteDance in December that it fired four employees who accessed the IP addresses and other data of two journalists while attempting to uncover the source of a leaked report about the company.
Congress is considering legislation that does not call out TikTok, but gives the Commerce Department the ability to restrict foreign threats on tech platforms.
That bill is being backed by the White House, but it has received pushback from privacy advocates, right-wing commentators and others who say the language is too broad.
Montana attorney general Austin Knudsen urged state politicians to pass the bill because he wasn’t sure Congress would act quickly on a federal ban.
“I think Montana’s got an opportunity here to be a leader,” Mr Knudsen, a Republican, told a House committee in March.
He says the app is a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on people in Montana.
Montana’s ban would not take effect until January 2024 and would be void if Congress passes a ban or if TikTok severs its Chinese connections.
Opponents argued the bill amounted to government overreach and that residents could easily circumvent the proposed ban by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
A VPN encrypts internet traffic and makes it more difficult for third parties to track online activities, steal data and determine a person’s location.
TikTok said in a statement it will “continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach”.