US Judge Blocks Trump’s WeChat Ban

A US district court judge has blocked a recently announced ban by the Trump administration of popular Chinese app WeChat, citing free speech concerns.

Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco granted an injunction, stating that the government hadn’t convinced in its argument that the ban was due to national security concerns, and that the “balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”

The Commerce Department had on Friday issued an order requiring Google Play and the Apple App Store to block the Tencent-owned app, which is estimated to have around 19 million users in the US.

As well as blocking this order, Beeler’s judgement also put paid to other demands from the government which would have impacted other “transactions” with WeChat, making it potentially unusable for many.

“Certainly, the government’s overarching national security interest is significant,” wrote Beeler, “but on this record – while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national security concerns – it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”

Although it began life as a messaging app in the WhatsApp mould, WeChat has grown into something much broader over the years to include payments and social media capabilities. It’s now used by over a billion consumers, most of whom are based in China.

However, given its Chinese ownership, the app has been viewed with increasing suspicion in Washington as a potential tool for government-led surveillance.

“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,” Trump wrote in his original executive order in August. 

“In addition, the application captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”

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