Advertisement

Federal judge approves injunction to delay looming WeChat ban in U.S.

Click to play video 'Trump issues executive orders to ban TikTok, WeChat apps in 45 days' Trump issues executive orders to ban TikTok, WeChat apps in 45 days
WATCH: Trump issues executive orders to ban TikTok, WeChat apps in 45 days

A federal judge has approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay looming U.S. 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 removes their platform for communication.

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.

Read more: Trump to block TikTok, WeChat downloads in U.S.

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

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.

Click to play video 'Tory MP presses Liberal minister on allowing WeChat post attacking Global News' Tory MP presses Liberal minister on allowing WeChat post attacking Global News
Tory MP presses Liberal minister on allowing WeChat post attacking Global News

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Click to play video 'Conservatives continue to push for apology over minister’s WeChat group post funding lawsuit' Conservatives continue to push for apology over minister’s WeChat group post funding lawsuit
Conservatives continue to push for apology over minister’s WeChat group post funding lawsuit

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.”

Story continues below advertisement

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.

___

AP technology writer Zen Soo in Hong Kong and reporters Michael Balsamo and Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.