Thursday, May 23, 2024

A federal judge in Texas on Monday upheld a ban that prevented state employees from using TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-form video app, on government devices and networks, rejecting a challenge by lawyers who argued that the prohibition had violated the First Amendment.

The ban was challenged in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The institute filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, whose members include Texas college professors who said that their work had been undermined after they were blocked from gaining access to TikTok on campus Wi-Fi and university-issued computers.

In his decision, Judge Robert L. Pitman of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas said he agreed that the ban had prevented public university faculty from using state-provided devices and networks to research and teach about TikTok, but found that it was a “reasonable restriction” in light of Texas’ concerns about data privacy.

Texas had limited the scope of its ban to state employees, he wrote, and there were “numerous other ways for state employees, including public university faculty members, to access TikTok, such as on their personal devices.”

Judge Pitman also noted that the Texas TikTok prohibition was narrower than a statewide ban in Montana that had been set to take effect next year until a federal judge temporarily blocked it.

Universities in more than 20 states have banned TikTok in some fashion, according to the Knight First Amendment Institute, based on new rules from lawmakers who say that TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, poses a national security threat.

The institute, which works on free speech cases pro bono, wants Texas and other states to exempt university faculty from the bans.

Lawmakers in the United States, Europe and Canada have escalated efforts to restrict access to TikTok over the past year, in large part because of concerns that TikTok and its parent company may put sensitive user data, like location information, into the hands of the Chinese government. They have pointed to laws that allow the Chinese government to secretly demand data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence-gathering operations. They are also worried that China could use TikTok’s content recommendations for misinformation.

Neither the Knight First Amendment Institute or TikTok could immediately be reached for comment.

Sapna Maheshwari contributed reporting.

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