A group of university faculty and free speech advocates in Texas has filed a lawsuit against the state government over a ban on TikTok, claiming that it infringes upon academic freedoms and violates the US Constitution. The ban, implemented by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in December, prohibits state officials from using TikTok on government networks or devices and imposes restrictions on state-funded universities. The ban is part of broader efforts by the US government and several states to address concerns about the Chinese-owned video-hosting service’s potential threats to data privacy and national security.
The Coalition for Independent Technology Research, which represents public university professors, is leading the legal challenge. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that Texas’s decision to restrict access to TikTok harms both research and teaching. They assert that the ban is unconstitutional and cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny. The lawsuit contends that the government does not have the authority to control scholarship and that the ban curtails legitimate research on TikTok’s potential risks and fails to meaningfully address concerns about China’s collection of sensitive data about Americans.
The plaintiffs include Dr. Michael Williams, the Chancellor of the University of North Texas System, and several members of the university’s board of regents. They are seeking to overturn the TikTok ban or obtain a constitutionally adequate means of accessing the platform for research and teaching purposes.
The TikTok ban in Texas aligns with similar measures adopted by more than 20 other states and the federal government, which has also prohibited employees and contractors from using the app on official devices. The concerns stem from TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese-based company. The FBI and the Federal Communications Commissions have expressed concerns about the potential for user data to be accessed by TikTok’s parent firm or the Chinese government.
However, both Beijing and TikTok have repeatedly denied the privacy concerns, asserting that the platform’s data is secure. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on the US to stop suppressing the company and accused officials of spreading disinformation about TikTok.
The legal challenge in Texas is part of a broader pushback against TikTok bans across the US. The American Civil Liberties Union and trade group NetChoice have criticized the prohibition as a violation of the US Constitution, due process, and free speech. The ACLU specifically highlighted the influence of anti-Chinese sentiment in driving these measures.
The outcome of the lawsuit in Texas could have significant implications for the future regulation of TikTok and similar platforms in the US. It will test the boundaries of government authority to restrict access to social media platforms on the grounds of national security and data privacy concerns while also ensuring the protection of academic freedoms and constitutional rights.