Judge Rejects Government Appeal On US WeChat Ban

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US judge rejects government appeal to reverse earlier decision allowing Chinese app WeChat to remain available in US app stores

A judge in San Francisco has rejected a US government appeal to reverse her decision allowing Tencent’s WeChat app to remain in US app stores.

U.S. magistrate judge Laurel Beeler said new evidence on an alleged national security threat posed by WeChat presented by the US Justice Department had not changed her analysis on the matter.

Beeler said on Friday that the record did not support the government’s assertion that it had “narrowly tailored” the prohibited transactions to support national security interests.

She said the evidence rather indicated an undue restriction on freedom of speech.

The White House. Image credit: US government
Image credit: US government

Freedom of speech

The restrictions “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests”, Beeler wrote.

A lawsuit by WeChat users had argued the government’s “unprecedented” ban affected an “entire medium of communication” based only on “speculation” of harm.

WeChat, which combines social media, mobile payment, messaging and other features, has 19 million regular users in the US and 1 billion worldwide.

The app, which is used more frequently than email in China, is also relied upon by many US users who have personal or business ties to China.

The US government had sought to ban WeChat from the US starting on 20 September, but was challenged by the lawsuit by WeChat users.

Personal data

Beeler issued an injunction blocking the US ban on the day it was due to take effect.

The US government’s executive order seeks to block new WeChat downloads, but also seeks to bar other types of US transactions with WeChat, which could make the app unusable for existing users.

At a hearing earlier this month, Justice Department lawyer Serena Orloff said the huge amounts of data collected on US WeChat users could allow the Chinese Communist Part to generate “a digital facsimile of a person’s life”.

The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, but a decision is not expected before December.

A US appeals court has also agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking a US ban of Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok.