Advertisement

Judge agrees to delay US government restrictions on WeChat

Icons for the smartphone apps TikTok and WeChat are seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, in a Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 file photo. Photo: AP/ Mark Schiefelbein. Icons for the smartphone apps TikTok and WeChat are seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, in a Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 file photo.

The Associated Press
Created: September 21, 2020 07:00 AM

A judge has approved a request from a group of U.S. WeChat users to delay looming federal government restrictions that could effectively make the popular app nearly impossible to use.

In a ruling dated Saturday, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California said the government's actions would affect users' First Amendment rights, as an effective ban on the app would remove their platform for communication.

Advertisement

WeChat is a messaging-focused app popular with many Chinese-speaking Americans that serves as a lifeline to friends, family, customers and business contacts in China. It's owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent.

The group of WeChat users requested an injunction after the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it would bar WeChat from U.S. app stores and keep it from accessing essential internet services in the country beginning Sunday at 11:59 p.m.

Early on Monday, WeChat was still available for download at Apple and Android app stores.

The Trump administration has targeted WeChat and another Chinese-owned app, TikTok, for national security and data privacy concerns, in the latest flashpoint amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The administration contends that the data of U.S. users collected by the two apps could be shared with the Chinese government.

US banning use of WeChat, TikTok for national security

On Saturday, President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal that would have TikTok partner with Oracle and WalMart to form a U.S. company. There is still a chance that TikTok could be banned in the U.S. as of Nov. 12 if the deal isn't completed, under the restrictions put in place by the Commerce Department.

However, a restriction to bar TikTok from app stores in the U.S., similar to what WeChat faced, was pushed back a week to Sept. 27 after Trump backed the latest TikTok deal. 

On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the government will ensure that under the TikTok-Oracle-WalMart deal, no American's data would end up in the possession of the Chinese government.

In the WeChat case, the users argued that the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech.

In her ruling, Beeler found that a WeChat ban "eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community," and that an injunction would be in the public's interest. Furthermore, specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also "modest," she wrote.

The U.S. government earlier argued that it would not be restricting free speech because WeChat users still "are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat."

The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the injunction, but Kerri Kupec, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said the department was reviewing the judge's order.

The dispute over WeChat and TikTok is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to counter the influence of China. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.


Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

Comment on Facebook
Advertisement

State of Resignation: How Minnesota 'cleans the record' for once-fired employees

Fog expected on Wednesday with more snowfall the rest of the week

Nursing homes facing staffing shortages amid pandemic

Minnesota State Patrol: Nearly 500 crashes, another 614 spinouts during snowstorm

Waseca officer Matson GoFundMe raises nearly $50,000 in 4 days

COVID-19 in Wisconsin: Over 4,500 new cases reported, 33 more deaths in latest report

Advertisement