A U.S. district judge on Monday struck down a legal challenge to a Texas law banning all state employees, including public university faculty, from accessing TikTok on state-owned devices, in yet another setback for the Chinese-owned platform in the U.S.
TikTok has been scrutinized by U.S. lawmakers, especially over the past year, over its ties to Beijing as the popular social media app is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in July by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute on behalf of the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, which argued the bill was unconstitutional as applied to faculty at public universities because it broadly restraints their research and teaching, therefore violating their First Amendment rights.
The plaintiffs also called on the court to exempt the coalition’s members from the ban “unless and until Defendants provide them with a constitutionally adequate means of accessing TikTok for research and teaching purposes.”
The coalition is a non-profit founded in 2022, made up of journalists, professors and others, whose aim is to promote and defend the right to study the impacts of technology on society.
But Judge Robert Pitman sided with Texas officials, saying the ban is a “reasonable, viewpoint-neutral restriction on a nonpublic forum,” pointing out it is a much narrower ban than those other states have tried to implement.
“Unlike other states’ more sweeping TikTok bans of late, Texas’s TikTok ban applies only to state devices and networks, leaving those impacted by the ban free to use TikTok on their personal devices on their own networks (as long as they are not used to access state networks),” Pitman wrote.
Last month, a judge blocked a statewide ban on TikTok in Montana, which would have prohibited downloading the app in the state starting next year, calling it unconstitutional.
Pitman also found that the ban is justifiable given the privacy concerns about TikTok.
“While the Court agrees with Plaintiff that the ban prevents certain public university faculty from using state-provided devices and networks to research and teach about TikTok, the Court finds that the ban is a reasonable restriction on access to TikTok in light of Texas’s concerns,” Pitman added.
TikTok did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on the ruling.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in February announced a statewide model security plan to mitigate what he described as “security risks associated with the use of TikTok on devices used to conduct” state business, including the ban of the app’s downloading and use on state-owned devices.
In their lawsuit challenging the restrictions on TikTok, the plaintiffs acknowledged that many members of the coalition have raised concerns about the platform, which “mainly mirror those that have been raised about other major commercial platforms, including American platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.”
The worries stemming from TikTok’s connection to China “are speculative, but even if they were grounded in evidence, they could not justify the application of Texas’s TikTok ban to faculty at public universities,” they said.
Meanwhile, a new survey published by Pew Research this week showed that support among U.S. adults for the Biden administration banning TikTok nationwide has dropped by nearly 20 percentage points since March.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. earlier this year warned ByteDance TikTok could risk getting banned in the U.S. unless the company sold its stake in the platform. So far, the Biden administration hasn’t acted on its threats.
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher
This story originally appeared on HuffPost