San Francisco’s U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler blocked a recent Department of Commerce order requiring Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Google to remove WeChat from app stores.
In his ruling, Beeler said a WeChat user lawsuit has “shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”
On Friday, the Department of Commerce issued an order to ban access to the app, citing national security concerns. The Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly requested the judge to uphold the ban.
The Justice Department warned that Beeler’s preliminary injunction would “frustrate and displace the President’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.”
Beeler countered the Justice Department’s claims, saying “while the general evidence about the threat to national security, related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest.”
Tencent Holdings, a Chinese owned technological giant that has been linked to the Chinese Communist Party, owns WeChat. The app boasts 19 million daily users in the United States and is popular with Chinese students as well as Americans doing business in China.
Critics argue that banning Wechat is unconstitutional
Critics of the Trump administration’s ban say it is a violation of their First Amendment rights since WeChat is a communications platform accessible to the public.
The “United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community,” said Michael Bien, an attorney representing WeChat users.
Bien further added that the ban “trampled on their First Amendment guaranteed freedoms to speak, to worship, to read and react to the press, and to organize and associate for numerous purposes.”
Whether the ban will hold in federal courts remains to be seen. An ongoing deal between Oracle and ByteDance to acquire a majority stake in TikTok is still underway.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has made it clear he would support the deal and roll back the ban if it meets Trump’s specifications.
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