WeChat Users Sue Administration Over “Unconstitutional” Ban

U.S. WeChat User Alliance filed a complaint on Friday in the Northern District of California against the President and the Secretary of Commerce in response to an August 6 executive order banning WeChat, a Chinese texting app, in the United States over national security concerns. The plaintiffs claimed that the executive order is unconstitutional.

WeChat is a dominant messaging app in China and can be used for messaging, social media, payments, shopping, and business transactions. It is owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd. There are more than 1 billion monthly active WeChat users worldwide, and 19 million reside in the United States. This is the “primary app Chinese-speakers in the U.S. use” to communicate with others and it has a native Chinese interface for Chinese speakers.

The complaint says the app “has become essential to the conduct of daily life for its users, many of whom regularly spend hours each day on the app,” therefore, the group asserted that the ban targets Chinese Americans and allegedly violates the equal protection clause and goes beyond the President’s authority provided in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The executive order stated that “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” The order noted that “Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” As a result, the order blocks “any transaction” related to WeChat.   

The users claimed the executive order is unconstitutional because it violates users’ First and Fifth Amendment rights. Specifically, they argued that it “silences WeChat users, the overwhelming majority of whom are members of the Chinese and Chinese-speaking communities.” Business, government workers, and religious entities also use the app. As a result, the plaintiffs averred that it restricts religious freedom in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The complaint further claimed that the executive order is too vague and failed to specifically state which transactions are blocked which has caused mass confusion. Consequently, they seek clarification about the banned WeChat transactions. The users also alleged that the U.S. government did not provide evidence that the app poses a national security threat. Furthermore, the users said they “are now afraid that by merely communicating with their families they may violate the law and face sanctions.” They declared that this communication is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic because of travel restrictions.  

The users have sought for the court to declare that the executive order is unlawful and unconstitutional, to declare that it does not comply with limitations on presidential power, to enjoin defendants from further prohibiting WeChat in the U.S., and to stay the implementation date of any of the order’s penalty provisions until the Secretary of Commerce defines “transactions” in the executive order.

U.S. WeChat User Alliance is represented by Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, Deheng Law Offices PC, and AFN Law PLLC.