The Oldest Blog
A first amendment blog for school administrators and attorneys.
*Also authored by Emmy Edwards, a third-year law student at the SMU Dedman School of Law, currently a law clerk at Thompson & Horton.
TikTok out at all state agencies, including institutions of higher education
On December 7, Governor Greg Abbott ordered “aggressive action against TikTok” on government-issued devices in the state of Texas in response to reports of the application’s substantial data harvesting. This directive came as part of a wave of state and federal government action aimed at curbing risks TikTok’s dangers on government devices.
On January 17th, a number of public Texas universities including UT-Austin, UT-Dallas, UNT, and Texas A&M announced plans to prohibit the use of TikTok on university internet systems in pursuit of compliance Governor Abbott’s order. This means that students using an institution’s wired devices or using their own device on the university WiFi will no longer be able to use TikTok. Several public universities across Texas and the country have since introduced similar restrictions.
Abbott’s directive ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to create a model plan for other state agencies by January 15, 2023, to mitigate the risk of vulnerabilities from the use of TikTok on personal devices. Each state agency then had until February 15 to implement its own policy governing the use of TikTok on personal devices. Governor Abbott’s office published the “Model Security Plan for Prohibited Technologies” on February 6, 2023. The Model Plan outlines objectives for each agency to follow in protecting Texas’ sensitive information and critical infostructure from potential threats, including:
A question that has come up recently is whether the ban will apply to community colleges. Governor Abbott’s original directive and announcement references state agencies, which community colleges are not, but did not specifically reference educational institutions. However, the Model Plan specifically includes “institutions of higher education” in the scope, which generally does include community colleges. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) policy may provide additional guidance on this issue when it is published.
As of the date of this blog, we are still waiting for TEA to publish its security policy. Stayed tuned for future updates and posts when the TEA policy is released.
Why all the fuss about TikTok?
Governor Abbott cited TikTok’s ability to “harvest vast amounts of data from its users devices” as the reason for his order. TikTok, a video-sharing social media application, is owned by ByteDance Ltd., a Beijing-based company that has raised concerns of politicians and others including FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The concern is that that under China’s national security laws Chinese companies, like ByteDance, are required to share access to the data collected from users when requested by the government. The privacy and security expert reports make it clear there is reason to be concerned. Watch for our future post on what information is being collected by TikTok and possible ways to protect yourself.
And what does this mean for K-12 school districts, charter systems, and community colleges across the state of Texas and beyond?
Teachers and administrators may be very familiar with TikTok, which is widely popular with young people, and the app likely makes an appearance in the classroom from time to time. Many may have concerns about the widespread use of the app on the schoolgrounds and beyond, and the recent wave of university TikTok bans also raises questions of how to appropriately comply with the governor’s December 7th directive.
Educators, as always, must consider a number of factors in this growing trend of TikTok hesitancy. Should schools quickly follow the lead of the colleges and universities to implement a ban? What details might the state guidance provide? How should schools navigate the political sensitivities surrounding such issues? Might there be First Amendment concerns in banning a social media site? Thompson & Horton attorneys stand ready to advise you on these issues and more.