President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban the Chinese app WeChat was meant to go into effect on 20 September. But a federal judge in California has temporarily blocked the ban, claiming that it could infringe on users’ first amendment rights.
The plan to ban it was challenged by a group of WeChat users who argued that removing the platform would prevent many from communicating with Chinese friends, relatives and business connections. The Chinese-owned messaging app has around 19 million users in the US and is particularly popular among Chinese-speaking Americans.
“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,” wrote Judge Laurel Beeler, who issued the preliminary injunction.
However, the Trump administration has alleged the app threatens national security. It has accused the Chinese government of using the platform to collect data on US citizens. Tencent, which owns WeChat, denies the allegations.
The justice department had urged Beeler not to block the order, saying doing so would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security”. But Beeler argued that an outright ban of the platform was unjustified. “As the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security,” she wrote.
The injunction against the ban comes after President Trump announced that he had approved a deal between TikTok and US firms Oracle and Walmart. This would enable TikTok to continue operating in the US.