U.S. Judge Curbs Trump’s Administration Order to Delete WeChat from App Stores

Early on Sunday, a U.S. judge halted an order by the Trump administration that required Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to delete Chinese messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco stated in an order that 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.”

Concerns about National Security

The 22-page order by her included the prohibitions “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security, especially given the lack of substitute channels for communication.”

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department had released an order pointing towards national security grounds to block the app from U.S. app stores owned by Tencent Holding’s and the Justice Department had requested Beeler not to block the order. Tencent and the Justice Department did not share a statement immediately.

Beeler’s preliminary injunction also curbed the Commerce order that would have banned other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have substantially degraded the site’s usability for current U.S. users or possibly made it unusable.

At an average WeChat has had 19 million daily active users in the United States, according to analytics firms Apptopia. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China, and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

The Justice Department stated that blocking the order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.”

Beeler wrote “certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. 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 U.S. users addresses those concerns.”

WeChat is an integration of different mobile apps that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Venmo. The app is a vital part of daily life for many in China and proudly has over 1 billion users.

The Justice Department also alleged that WeChat users could switch to other apps or platforms.

“Hard-fought Victory”

The WeChat Users Alliance that had filed the lawsuit against the order had praised the ruling “as an important and hard-fought victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the U.S.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer for the users, said that “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.”

He added the order “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.”

Beeler also noted “there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as restricting WeChat from government devices.

She added “The 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.”

Separately, the Commerce Department said on late Saturday that it was delaying enforcement of another order rolled out on Friday. They did that because it would also have curbed U.S. app stores from offering TikTok starting late Sunday.

The one-week delay came after U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday blessed a deal with TikTok owner ByteDance and U.S. companies Oracle Corp and Walmart Inc to create a new company to handle TikTok’s U.S. operations