A United States judge on Sunday blocked the government’s order asking Google and Apple to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat from their stores for download, Reuters reported. WeChat, owned by a Chinese company called Tencent, is very popular among Chinese-speaking Americans.
US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said that the lawsuit filed by WeChat users raised “serious questions” about the country’s First Amendment, which pertains to free speech, and “the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favour.” The users had argued that the ban on the all-in-one app with social media, instant messaging and other communication tools would curb free speech, according to AP.
The decision came after the US on Friday ordered a ban on WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok from September 20, citing threats to national security and data privacy amid rising tension between Washington and Beijing.
Beeler added that the evidence relating a threat to national security was modest.
“Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant,” she wrote. “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 US users addresses those concerns.”
The users, under the aegis of WeChat Users Alliance, who filed the lawsuit, said the judge’s order was “an important and hard-fought victory” for millions of users of the app.
“The United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer representing the users. “There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”
Meanwhile, TikTok has also filed a lawsuit against the United States administration, challenging the ban. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance had filed a complaint late on Friday night, asking a federal judge in Washington to stop the government from enacting the ban.
The company added that United States President Donald Trump surpassed his authority and alleged that he imposed the ban for political reasons instead of an “unusual and extraordinary threat”.
The ban on TikTok, however, was delayed till September 27 following the company’s proposal to make multinational firm Oracle its US technology provider and retail company Walmart a commercial partner.
Trump has repeatedly alleged that TikTok poses a threat to the US’ national security because of China’s influence. “The Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had said in a statement after announcing the ban.
On August 6, Trump had issued executive orders banning the video app within 45 days if it did not sell off its assets. A week later, he issued another order and gave the company the 90-day ultimatum to close the deal. Trump had on September 10 refused to extend the September 15 deadline for Chinese company ByteDance to sell its popular video-sharing platform TikTok’s American assets.
On June 29, the Indian government banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese-linked apps, citing national security concerns. However, the move came just two weeks after a violent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, along the Line of Actual Control, which resulted in the death of 20 jawans.