US university professors cry foul on Texas’ ‘unconstitutional’ TikTok ban

US university professors cry foul on Texas’ ‘unconstitutional’ TikTok ban

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A free speech group of professors at New York’s Columbia University has sued Texas Governor Greg Abbott and others for the state’s TikTok ban on official devices, saying that the ban is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and impinges on academic freedom.

In December 2022, Texas joined other states in banning the app on devices owned by officials, citing national security concerns, joining a slew of U.S. politicians and intelligence officials in saying that the ByteDance Ltd.-owned app is more or less spying software for China’s Communist Party. At the time of the ban, Abbott warned that the extremely popular app provides a “trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government.”

The professors, who all belong to a free speech group named the “The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia,” said the ban is detrimental to academics who research the impact social media has on people’s lives. The group said the ban is currently “seriously impeding” research that could, in fact, help the American government understand TikTok better.

“Texas’s TikTok ban is an assault on academic freedom, which is the lifeblood of every university and a central concern of the First Amendment,” said Ramya Krishnan, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “The court should make clear that Texas can’t shut down an important avenue of teaching and research at its public universities when there are far less intrusive measures that would secure its aims.”

Although some U.S. officials, as well as former President Donald Trump, have mulled completely banning TikTok from the U.S., despite the app’s many protestations and efforts to placate spying concerns, it’s doubtful it will happen. TikTok has introduced a data security plan in an attempt to weather this storm, which is coming from more than just the U.S.

But the app’s largest consumer base is inside the U.S. Some 116.5 million Americans would likely take a dim view of the politician that took their beloved app away. TikTok has also launched its own lawsuits against various bans.

The group at Columbia is suing Texas on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, a coalition of academics, journalists and civil society researchers who defend the right for Americans to study various technologies. Dave Karpf, who’s a professor on the board of that group, called the Texas ban “misguided.” He added, “It’s important that scholars and researchers be able to study the platform and illuminate the risks associated with it.”

Abbott has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Photo: Solen Feyissa/Flickr

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