New UCI Law Clinic Report Urges a Human Rights Approach to Demands for a TikTok Ban


IRVINE, Calif. (Mar. 10, 2023) —  The International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) released a report today on the lawfulness of a nationwide ban on the popular social media app TikTok under the United States’ human rights obligations. The report, Necessary and Proportionate? TikTok Bans and American Obligations Under International Human Rights Law, urges U.S. policymakers to ensure that any steps taken to address perceived threats posed by TikTok are compliant with U.S. obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the central treaties in human rights law that the United States ratified in 1992. 

“American policymakers and legislators are increasingly calling for a ban on TikTok,” said the authors, UCI Law second-year law students Celine Gruaz and Gabriel Lazo. “We get it. There are widespread fears about surveillance, data collection, manipulation and espionage by the Chinese government. Our report tries to make the point that, whatever the grounds for restrictions, the government must demonstrate that they meet tests of legality, legitimacy and proportionality.”

The report argues that a ban or restriction on TikTok — in effect, a ban on American individuals’ use of the platform to exercise their rights to free expression — runs counter to longtime U.S. policy. 

“The United States has long criticized other governments for their restrictions on websites and social media applications, from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube and Wikipedia, among others,” said Professor David Kaye, director of UCI Law’s International Justice Clinic. “U.S. officials should turn the spotlight they typically direct against others toward themselves and rigorously review any potential restrictions according to human rights law. We fear that anything less would incentivize a new wave of global internet restrictions.” 

The report notes that other steps may be available to address concerns about privacy and Chinese government access to American data. “Ultimately, domestic data privacy laws applicable to all social media platforms would likely better serve the asserted interests in the TikTok debate over the kinds of  restrictions proposed by Congress,” said Hinako Sugiyama, UCI Law’s Digital Rights Fellow.

About the International Justice Clinic

The International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law seeks to advance human rights norms and protections and integrate them at national, regional, international and corporate levels—all while training the next generation of human rights lawyers. Directed by Professor David Kaye, former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the clinic has extensive experience addressing threats to human rights, particularly in the digital realm. The clinic works alongside civil society organizations and other stakeholders from across the globe and emphasizes a multi-faceted approach to human rights advocacy.

Our students work on every aspect of the clinic’s projects. They conduct international legal research, engage in on-the-ground fact finding, hold interviews in cross-cultural settings, prepare written analyses, give formal presentations to governmental bodies, build multi-stakeholder coalitions, draft litigation briefs and policy documents and much more.

The clinic seeks to integrate marginalized and underrepresented voices and perspectives throughout our work.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a top, visionary law school that provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 135,000 hours of pro bono work since 2009 in addition to UCI Law's Clinical Programs. Forty-eight percent of UCI Law's J.D. graduates are people of color. At UCI Law, we are driven to improve our local, national, and global communities by grappling with important issues as scholars, as practitioners, and as teachers who are preparing the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, engaged alumni and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Please follow us on Twitter @UCILaw, Facebook @UCIrvineLaw and Instagram @ucilaw.