WeChat (Shutterstock)

U.S. District Court denies Trump request to shutdown WeChat app

A federal judge in San Francisco denied a request by the U.S. Department of Commerce to suspend a Sept. 20 preliminary injunction blocking an executive order issued by President Donald J. Trump that would shut down the WeChat messaging app in the United States.

Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler ruled that despite additional evidence submitted by the government in support of its argument that national security was at stake, “the government’s new evidence does not meaningfully alter its earlier submissions.” The court’s assessment of the First Amendment analysis and the risks to national security — on this record — are unchanged,” she wrote.

Noting that despite its new submissions, the government failed to “narrowly tailor” the prohibitions to reduce the impact on the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, the Court denied the request to stay her order while the government’s appeal is pending.

WeChat began in China as a messaging app and over the years added additional functionality including calling, video conferencing, and in-app payments. WeChat is owned by the Chinese company, Tencent Holdings Ltd., and is estimated to have more than a billion users worldwide, including 19 million in the United States, according to plaintiffs’ complaint.

The government contends that the app is used by the Chinese government for surveillance and data collection within the United States and that the president’s order was a justified exercise of the president’s national security powers against a “foreign adversary whose hostile acts are undisputed, and whose aspirations for global dominance are undisputed.”

The order, as subsequently interpreted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, imposed a number of limitations and prohibitions on WeChat and third parties, including prohibiting new downloads of the WeChat app, stopping the transfer of funds out of the United States, and forbidding the providing of technical services to WeChat by third parties. The plaintiffs contended and the court found that by prohibiting third-party services such as web hosting and internet transit services, WeChat would be effectively shut down, depriving millions of Chinese-speaking Americans of the primary platform they can use to communicate and interact with friends and family in China.

The Court found that as a result of the order “the app, while perhaps technically available to existing U.S. users, likely will be useless to them.”

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