AUSTIN, TX—The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today asked a federal court to bar Texas from enforcing its TikTok ban against public university faculty pending the outcome of the lawsuit that the Institute filed on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research earlier this summer.

“Texas’s TikTok ban is both overbroad and ineffective, and it imposes a heavy burden on the First Amendment rights of faculty who study TikTok and use TikTok in their teaching, as we make clear in the papers filed today,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “Suppressing research and teaching about one of the world’s major communications platforms is not a sensible or constitutionally permissible way of addressing the data-collection and disinformation concerns that Texas has identified.”

Texas’s TikTok ban requires all state agencies, including public universities, to bar employees from downloading or using TikTok on state devices and networks, as well as on personal devices used to conduct state business. In the papers filed today, the Knight Institute and the Coalition write that the ban is already having far-reaching effects on public university faculty—“requiring faculty to suspend research projects, alter their research agendas, change their teaching methodologies, eliminate course materials, and limit their engagement with research produced by other scholars.” The Coalition includes professors at public universities in Texas whose research and teaching have been compromised by the ban.

To support today’s motion, the Coalition and Knight Institute submitted a declaration from Bruce Schneier, one of the nation’s foremost experts on computer security and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. In explaining why Texas’s ban won’t protect Texans’ privacy, Schneier’s declaration explains that any company—or foreign government—that wants to acquire data about Americans can readily purchase that data from data brokers. To support that point, Schneier cites, among other things, a recent report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

The groups also submitted a declaration from Professor Jacqueline Vickery, a member of the Coalition and a professor at the University of North Texas whose work focuses on how young people use digital and social media for informal learning, self-expression, and activism. “The ban has forced me to abandon or suspend research projects and change both the content of my courses and the way I teach them,” said Vickery. “It has also limited my ability to participate in the process of peer-review. It’s had a profound effect on nearly every aspect of my work.”

In asking for the injunction, the Coalition and the Knight Institute note that the state’s legitimate interests in guarding against disinformation and protecting Texans’ privacy can be accommodated without restraining academic research and expression. Possible measures include expanding a Texas data privacy law that passed in June, and promoting more visibility into platforms’ operations by requiring social media companies to provide more data to researchers and the public.

“With today’s filing, we’re asking the court to exempt public university faculty from the ban while it considers our challenge to the ban’s constitutionality,” said Ramya Krishnan, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Given the ban’s far-reaching implications for academic expression, we hope the court will move quickly.”

Read today’s brief here

Read the declarations from:
Bruce Schneier, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University;
Jacqueline Vickery, Coalition for Independent Technology Research and University of North Texas;
Ethan Zuckerman, Coalition for Independent Technology Research and University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and
Ioana Literat, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Lawyers on the case include Jameel Jaffer, Ramya Krishnan, and George Wang for the Knight Institute and Peter Steffensen of the First Amendment Clinic at SMU Dedman School of Law.

For more information, contact: Adriana Lamirande, [email protected]