Judge Upholds Texas's Partial TikTok Ban

A Texas prohibition on the use of TikTok on government property doesn't violate the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled late Monday.

The ban is “viewpoint neutral” and “reasonable,” given Texas officials' securities concerns over the app, which is owned by the Chinese-company ByteDance, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman in Austin said in a 17-page decision.

“Unlike other states’ more sweeping TikTok bans of late, Texas’s TikTok ban applies only to state devices and networks, leaving those impacted by the ban free to use TikTok on their personal devices on their own networks (as long as they are not used to access state networks),” he wrote.

The ruling comes several weeks after a federal judge in Montana halted a broader law that would have prohibited app stores from offering TikTok to users in Montana, and prohibited people from using TikTok in the state (with some exceptions, including for law enforcement).



Texas's ban, by contrast, prohibits use of the app on government-owned computers and broadband networks, and from personal devices that connect to state-run networks -- including smartphones that also send or receive emails from a public university or other government workplace.

In July, a group of academics claimed in a lawsuit that the ban violated the First Amendment, and sought an injunction against enforcement. The academics, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, argued that Texas law “severely compromises the ability of public university faculty to teach with and about TikTok, as well as to undertake research relating to TikTok.”

State Attorney General Ken Paxton countered that the ban is a reasonable security measure, given concerns that the Chinese Communist Party could access the app and “exploit users' location data, passwords and other sensitive data.”

One of the plaintiffs, University of North Texas professor Jacqueline Vickery, who studies how young people use digital and social media, said in court papers that the law has forced her to suspend research projects and to stop teaching students about some aspects of the app.

Vickery said she doesn't have a personal computer or laptop. She argued that even though she has a cellphone, the ban appears to prohibit her from using that device to access TikTok because she uses that phone for her university email, Zoom account, and other school-run technology services.

Pitman said in his ruling that even though the ban “prevents certain public university faculty from using state-provided devices and networks to research and teach about TikTok,” the measure is a “reasonable restriction on access to TikTok in light of Texas’s concerns.”

Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director, called the decision “disappointing.”

“Restricting research and teaching about one of the world’s major communications platforms is not a sensible or constitutionally permissible way of addressing legitimate concerns about TikTok’s data-collection practices,” he stated Tuesday.

A spokesperson says the Knight Institute is considering an appeal.

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