US judge upholds Texas TikTok ban on state-owned devices

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -A U.S. judge on Monday upheld Texas’ ban on state employees’, including public university employees, using Chinese-owned short video app TikTok on state-owned devices or networks.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed suit in July arguing that Texas’ state government TikTok ban “is preventing or seriously impeding faculty from pursuing research that relates to TikTok.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman rejected the suit, saying the Texas restriction was motivated by data protection concerns and calling “a reasonable restriction on access to TikTok in light of Texas’s concerns.”

“Public university faculty – and all public employees – are free to use TikTok on their personal devices (as long as such devices are not used to access state networks),” he wrote.

Pitman contrasted the ban to Montana that sought to ban all TikTok use in the state starting Jan. 1 but was blocked by another U.S. judge last month, whole ruled the state ban “violates the Constitution in more ways than one” and “oversteps state power.”

TikTok sued Montana in May, seeking to block the U.S. state ban on several grounds, arguing it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of the company and users.

More than 30 states and U.S. federal agencies including the White House, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department have banned TikTok from government devices.

The TikTok ban on federal devices mandated by Congress in December 2022 does not apply if there are national security, law enforcement or security research activities.

TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance, the world’s most valuable start-up. Numerous countries have raised concerns over its proximity to the Chinese government and hold over user data across the world.

TikTok, which has more than 150 million users in the United States, denies it improperly uses U.S. data.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast)