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Montana Just Passed A Law Banning TikTok. But Can The State Enforce It?

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Montana Just Passed A Law Banning TikTok. But Can The State Enforce It?

NEW YORK (AP) — Montana’s first-of-its kind law that makes it illegal for residents to use TikTok in the state is already facing its first legal challenge with a lawsuit filed by five people who use the app and argue the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights.

Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it into law Wednesday expecting a legal fight would follow. The law, which isn’t scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, also faces a litany of questions over whether the state can even enforce the law.

The new rules in Montana will have more far-reaching effects than TikTok bans already in place on government-issued devices in nearly half the states and the U.S. federal government. There are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana as well as 6,000 businesses that use the video-sharing platform, according to company spokesperson Jamal Brown.

Here’s what you need to know:

WHY IS MONTANA BANNING TIKTOK?

Proponents of the law in Montana claim the Chinese government could harvest U.S. user data from TikTok and use the platform to push pro-Beijing misinformation or messages to the public.

That mirrors arguments made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate, as well as the heads of the FBI and the CIA, all of whom have said TikTok could pose a national security threat because its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance operates under Chinese law.

Critics have pointed to China’s 2017 national intelligence law that compels companies to cooperate with the country’s governments for state intelligence work. Another Chinese law, implemented in 2014, has similar mandates.

TikTok says it has never been asked to hand over its data, and it wouldn’t do so if asked.

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WHAT DO THEY ARGUE IN THE LEGAL CHALLENGE?

Five plaintiffs who are all TikTok creators from Montana argue the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights. They also contend the state doesn’t have authority over matters of national security.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes,” the complaint said.

The people suing include one with a swimwear business, one who connects with military veterans, one who shares videos about ranch life, another who shares her outdoor adventures and one who shares humorous videos.

Emily Flower, spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said the state expected a legal challenge and it is “fully prepared to defend the law.”

TikTok has argued that the law infringes on people’s First Amendment rights. But spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter declined to comment on the lawsuit and also declined to say whether the company helped coordinate the complaint filed by the TikTok content creators.

The case could serve as a testing ground for the TikTok free America many national lawmakers have envisioned.

HOW DOES MONTANA PLAN TO BAN TIKTOK?

The law will prohibit downloads of TikTok in the state and fine any “entity” — an app store or TikTok — $10,000 per day for each time someone accesses TikTok, “is offered the ability” to access it, or downloads it.

That means Apple and Google, which operate app stores on Apple and Android devices, would be liable for any violations. Penalties would not apply to users.

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The statewide ban won’t take effect until January 2024. It would be void if the social media platform is sold to a company that is not based in “any country designated as a foreign adversary” by the federal government.

The governor indicated he wants to expand the bill to other social media apps in order to address some of the bill’s “technical and legal concerns.” But the legislature adjourned before sending him the bill, which meant he couldn’t offer his amendments.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has pointed to technology used to restrict online sports gambling apps as a way to curtail TikTok from operating in the state. Those violations can be reported by anyone. And once the state verifies a breach has taken place, it sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company involved, said Kyler Nerison, a spokesperson for Knudsen’s office. He said different companies use different methods for compliance and it’s up to them “to not allow their apps to work in Montana and other states where they are not legal.”

SO, COULD THE TIKTOK BAN WORK?

Cybersecurity experts say that, other than avoiding the fine, there’s nothing incentivizing the companies involved to comply and it will be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to adequately enforce the law.

For one, the U.S. doesn’t have anything equivalent to the type of control countries like China have on what their citizens access on the web. Compounding that, internet service providers are out of the picture.

Before the Montana law passed, lawmakers rewrote portions of the bill to let them off the hook after a lobbyist for AT&T said during a February hearing the legislation was “not workable” to put into effect.

COULD TECH COMPANIES BLOCK IT?

Apple and Google have not spoken out against the law. But a representative for TechNet, the trade group that counts the two tech giants as its members, has said app stores don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps in different states and it would be impossible to prevent TikTok from being downloaded in Montana. The group has also said the responsibility should be on an app to determine where it can operate, not an app store.

Telecoms analyst Roger Entner, of Recon Analytics, says he believes the app stores could have the capability to enforce the law, but it would be cumbersome to implement and full of loopholes. Apple and Google’s address-linked billing could be bypassed with prepaid cards and IP geolocation easily masked by using a VPN service, which can alter IP addresses and allows users to evade content restrictions, said mobile security expert Will Strafach, the founder of Guardian, which makes a privacy protection app for Apple devices.

Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerability research at the cybersecurity firm Check Point, agreed it would be difficult for app stores to isolate a single state from downloading an app. He suggested it would be more feasible for TikTok to comply since it controls the software and can “adjust the settings based on the geographical location or IP addresses” of users.

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COULD TIKTOK BLOCK ITSELF?

When users allow TikTok to collect their location information, it can track a person to at least 3 square kilometers (1.16 square miles) from their actual location. If that feature is disabled, TikTok can still collect approximate location information – such as the region, city or zip code in which a user may be located – based on device or network information, like an IP address.

But similar to the app stores, cybersecurity experts note that any enforcement measures the company implements could be easily bypassed with a VPN and efforts to use IP geolocating might lead to other issues.

David Choffnes, the executive director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University, said cell providers may use the same types of IP addresses for multiple states, which could mean someone who is not in Montana could incorrectly be blocked from using TikTok.

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AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Boston.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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