WASHINGTON: A U.S. judge on Sunday barred the Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to remove Chinese messaging app WeChat for download by Sunday evening.
Judge Laurel Beeler, American magistrate San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who took legal action “have shown serious questions about the merits of the First Amendment claim, the scales are in favor of the plaintiffs.”
On Friday, the Commerce Department issued an order citing national security reasons to block the app from U.S. app stores owned by Tencent Holding and the Justice Department urged Beeler not to block the order.
Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked Commerce’s order that would have prohibited other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the usability of the site for current American users. The US Department of Commerce did not immediately comment.
WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics companies Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China, and some Americans with personal or professional connections in China.
The Justice Department said blocking the order “would frustrate and displace the president’s resolve on how best to deal with threats to national security.” But Beeler said that “while the general evidence on China’s national security threat (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence regarding WeChat is modest.”
She added, “The regulation – which eliminates a channel of communication with no apparent substitutes – charges far more rhetoric than is necessary to promote meaningful government interest.”
WeChat is an all-in-one mobile application that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of the daily life of many Chinese people and has over one billion users.
The suing WeChat Users Alliance hailed the ruling “as an important and fierce victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the United States.”
Michael Bien, an advocate for users, said that “The United States has never shut down a major communications platform, even in times of war. There are serious First Amendment issues with the WeChat ban. , which targets the Chinese-American community. ”
He added that the order “trampled on their First Amendment guaranteed freedoms to speak, worship, read and respond to the press, and to organize and associate for many purposes.”

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