US judge will not reverse decision on WeChat app store ban

US judge will not reverse decision on WeChat app store ban

FILE PHOTO: Illustration picture of Wechat app on a mobile phone
FILE PHOTO: The messenger app WeChat is seen next to its logo in this illustration picture taken August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO: A US judge in San Francisco on Friday (Oct 23) rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple and Alphabet's Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in US app stores.

Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government's new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.

WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.

READ: US government appeals judge's ruling to block WeChat app store ban

The Justice Department has appealed Beeler's decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.

In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a US Commerce Department order set to take effect on Sep 20 that would have required the app to be removed from US app stores.

The Commerce Department order would also bar other US transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.

"The record does not support the conclusion that the government has 'narrowly tailored' the prohibited transactions to protect its national security interests," Beeler wrote on Friday.

She said the evidence "supports the conclusion that the restrictions 'burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests'."

WeChat users argued the government sought "an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication" and offered only "speculation" of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.

READ: Commentary: Why TikTok is a social media unlike anything seen before

In a similar case, a US appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from US app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok.

Source: Reuters/mi