Judge Blocks Trump Administration From Banning WeChat

On Saturday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of the Northern District of California blocked the Trump administration’s order banning WeChat, the popular Chinese-owned messaging, social media, and payment app, from being banned in app stores on Sunday night, citing free speech protections.

As noted in the court order, the August Executive Order and the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) Friday ban means that “consumers in the U.S. cannot download or update the WeChat app, use it to send or receive money, and – because U.S. support for the app by data hosting and content caching will be eliminated – the app, while perhaps technically available to existing U.S. users, likely will be useless to them.” In the lawsuit, U.S.-based WeChat users challenged the legality of the executive order, and in turn, the DOC’s subsequent app store ban; they sought a preliminary injunction claiming that the ban violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and was an unlawful exercise of the President and Secretary’s power given under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act.

Magistrate Beeler noted that “WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat.” The magistrate agreed with the plaintiffs, stating that the WeChat users “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs favor.”

The order blocks the Department of Commerce from forcing U.S. app stores, namely Apple and Google from removing WeChat for downloads by Sunday night and it prohibited the DOC from banning other WeChat transactions that could have hindered the usability of WeChat for users in the United States. If the preliminary injunction was not granted, the Department’s ban would have effectively shut down the app in the U.S. Sunday night.

Reuters reported that the government stated it would challenge the injunction. “‘Prohibiting the identified transactions is necessary to protect the national security of the United States, and the department expects to soon seek relief from this order,'” the Commerce Department said, according to Reuters.

The DOC’s app store ban also applied to TikTok, who struck a partnership deal with Oracle last week to appease the U.S. government’s concerns, which required governmental approval.