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Federal judge temporarily blocks Trump restrictions on Chinese app WeChat

Judge grants temporary injunction hours before executive action was to take effect.

Updated: September 20, 2020 - 10:42am

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A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s executive action that would have curbed Americans' use of the popular Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in California granted a motion for a temporary injunction filed by the nonprofit group U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, which argued the Trump action set to take effect Sunday night would unfairly burden users, many who are Chinese immigrants, and possibly violate their First Amendment rights.

“The plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat,” Beeler wrote in her 22-page order.

Though won by the American non-profit, the decision was nonetheless a victory for Tencent Holdings, the Chinese tech giant that owns WeChat.

"The plaintiffs have established irreparable harm. The immediate threat is the elimination of their platform for communication, which results in irreparable injury absent an injunction," the judge wrote in explaining her decision.

The Trump administration, including the Commerce Department, had issued an order stopping cell companies from allowing the WeChat and TikTok app, saying they risked national security and Americans' privacy.

"Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories,” the Commerce Department said recently. “Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services” of the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok is in the process of selling its U.S. rights to the app to Oracle in a deal being reviewed by President Trump.