A judge in California, US blocked the government’s ban on downloads of China-based messaging app WeChat, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.
US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler remarked in her order, “WeChat users showed serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”
She added, “Certainly the government’s national security interest is significant. However, there is scant little evidence that the effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”
Beeler’s preliminary restriction also blocked the Commerce Department order that would have banned US transactions on WeChat.
Last week the Commerce Department outlined how the bans on WeChat and TikTok that President Trump had been threatening for months would work. If the ban order would have been in place beginning midnight today, US users would not be able to download the apps from Apple and Google’s app stores.
The WeChat case was filed by the US users of the app who are not affiliated with the Chinese company arguing that the ban would violate users’ due process and free speech rights. The US users of the app are WeChat Alliance and are not affiliated with the company in any official capacity.
The lawsuit noted that the ban targeted Chinese-Americans since WeChat is the primary app Chinese-speakers in the US use to participate in social life by connecting with loved ones, sharing special moments, ideas, participating in political discussions, and advocacy, and receiving updated news. The app is a common tool for Chinese speakers in the US to communicate with friends and relatives in China, as most of the Western communication apps, including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are banned in China.
At a court conference in the WeChat case, Serena Orloff, an attorney for the US Justice Department, argued that the order does not violate the First Amendment because WeChat users can move to other messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger or Line.
President Trump had been threatening for months that beginning today at midnight, US users would not be able to download the apps from Apple and Google’s app stores.
According to analytics provider App Annie, WeChat had about 3.3 million monthly active users in the United States as of August. For the week ended August 15, TikTok had 52.1 million weekly active users in the US.