WeChat battle spills into the weekend ahead of Trump's ban on the Chinese app

Alexis Keenan
·2-min read

A San Francisco district court judge delayed a decision Friday over a preliminary injunction sought by a group of WeChat (TCEHY) users to block the Trump administration from implementing a ban on the popular Chinese mobile app, scheduled to go into effect Sunday.

Deliberation on the matter will resume Saturday during a hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time. The Sunday ban would also apply to TikTok, another popular Chinese app. The measure would not stop individuals from using the apps for personal use, if already downloaded onto a mobile device; however, downloads of new versions and business use would be prohibited.

The delay, prompted by a procedural issue that requires plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, arose after the Trump administration on Friday published rules defining specific prohibited “transactions” related to WeChat.

The plaintiffs’ original complaint was based on objections to the administration’s executive order, filed in August, alleging that it was too vague. However, the rules filed by the Secretary of Commerce prompted the plaintiffs to file a motion arguing that the ban as amended is unconstitutional and violates WeChat users’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The messenger app WeChat is seen next to its logo in this illustration picture taken August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration
The messenger app WeChat is seen next to its logo in this illustration picture taken August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

“I think the key is to maintain the status quo to stop the ban from going into effect,” plaintiffs attorney Michael Bien told magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler during a hearing on Friday.

Bien argued during Friday’s hearing that the government had failed to produce evidence that its WeChat ban poses a national security threat, as described in its executive order and in the Secretary’s rules.

U.S. attorney Serena Orloff, on behalf of the Justice Department, said the government was currently in talks over how to handle information concerning the stated threat.

“There is such a classified threat assessment and we are conferring with our clients as to whether or not we're going to bring that to the court's attention in connection with any expedited briefing, and what the protocol would be for that,” Orloff said.

The government also argued that no threat to free speech exists because the executive order gave WeChat plaintiffs adequate notice of the proposed ban, and adequate access to similar alternative mobile apps exists.

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Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.

Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.