News

A federal judge will decide whether to block a Texas TikTok ban for state agencies

A U.S. District Judge in Austin heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by a Columbia free speech group, which argues banning TikTok use at public universities hinders faculty research and teaching.

FILE - The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone screen, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo. A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in a case filed by TikTok and five Montana content creators who want the court to block the state’s ban on the video sharing app before it takes effect Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

A federal judge in Austin is weighing whether to block Texas’ ban of TikTok on state-owned and issued devices after hearing arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the ban’s constitutionality.

Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute sued Gov. Greg Abbott and other state and education officials in July on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, a group that advocates for and defends the study of technology on society.

Attorneys for the Knight First Amendment Institute and the state gave their arguments Wednesday in Austin in front of U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director for the institute, said the plaintiffs are asking the court to move quickly in granting an injunction so university faculty part of the coalition can continue using TikTok for research and teaching purposes at state institutions.

“Their work is about the social media platforms,” Jaffer said. “They study the social media platforms, write about the social media platforms, propose regulatory reform relating to the social media platforms. And the ban is impeding them from doing that work.”

Texas is one of more than 30 states to restrict TikTok access on government devices as of January, according to CNN. Abbott announced his order to ban TikTok on state devices on Dec. 7, 2022.

The governor's letter cited concerns over how much data TikTok, owned by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, collects on its users and how it's used. FBI Director Chris Wray raised similar concerns last year about the Chinese government’s ability to control TikTok’s algorithm.

The University of Texas at Austin was one of the first public universities to ban TikTok on its Wi-Fi networks Jan. 17, followed days later by the Texas A&M University System, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Attorney Todd Dickerson, with the Texas attorney general's office, argued the ban is a precautionary measure that impacts very few researchers and that faculty affected by the ban can do their work with TikTok on their personal devices.

Dickerson also mentioned the Biden administration’s concerns over data privacy. The administration demanded in March that TikTok be restructured and supervised by a Texas-based software company called Oracle or it would be banned in the U.S.

Jaffer said the ban would still affect faculty using the app on their personal devices if they’re connected to the university’s Wi-Fi network.

He also argued that banning TikTok altogether isn’t the best way to address state and national safety concerns.

“If Texas wants to address that problem — as it should — the best way to do it is through privacy law that would restrict those platforms from collecting information,” Jaffer said. "It would restrict the platforms from collecting information without restricting the First Amendment rights of professors."

Judge Pitman did not give an exact timeline for when the court would issue a ruling on the injunction.

Copyright 2023 KERA.