Sep 20, 2020 - Technology

Judge temporarily halts Trump's WeChat ban

An illustration of the WeChat logo on a phone screen.
Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A federal judge early on Sunday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order banning downloads of the Chinese-owned global messaging app WeChat.

Why it matters: The temporary injunction means WeChat will remain on Apple's and Google's app stores, despite a Commerce Department order to remove the app by Sunday evening.

  • The move also blocks Commerce from prohibiting other transitions with WeChat in the U.S. that may have affected the site's usability for millions who use the app in the country.

What she's saying: WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor," U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco wrote.

  • “[W]hile 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," Beeler said.
  • "[T]he regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest. This affects the assessment of the public interest."

Context: The Commerce Department on Friday issued the order on national security grounds.

  • The Justice Department argued that blocking the order would "frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security," per Reuters.
  • The Commerce Department delayed a similar ban on Chinese-owned TikTok after President Trump said on Saturday he approved "in concept" a deal whereby TikTok will be allowed to continue operating in the U.S., with Oracle as its "trusted technology partner."
  • The Trump administration did not immediately comment on Sunday's injunction.
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