US judge halts Trump's order to remove WeChat from app stores

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

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

In a ruling dated on 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.

A group of WeChat users had made the request after the US commerce department said on Friday it would bar WeChat from US app stores and keep it from accessing essential Internet services in the country from midnight Sunday.

The government cited national security and data-privacy concerns in taking action against WeChat and imposing similar restrictions on TikTok, another popular Chinese-owned app. The restrictions on TikTok were pushed back by a week on Saturday after President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal among its Chinese parent company ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart.

WeChat users had argued the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech. In the ruling, the court said that a WeChat ban “eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs’ community,” and that an injunction would be in public interest.

The US government had earlier argued that it is not restricting free speech because WeChat users still “are free to speak on alternative platforms.”

Specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was also “modest,” according to Judge Beeler.

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