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Judge in WeChat case seems unlikely to allow US ban to go ahead

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A San Francisco judge on Thursday said he was unlikely to lift a temporary blockade on the U.S. government’s attempts to ban WeChat. U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler has responded to the Trump administrations’ request to suspend its preliminary injunction of September 20, which prevents the government from stopping new downloads of WeChat in the United States and blocking transactions related to the app.

Beeler did not issue a decision on Thursday, but said the government had not presented new evidence to persuade her that there were significant national security concerns allowing WeChat to remain active in the United States. Beeler said in his September 20 order that a group of WeChat users seriously questioned whether the ban would potentially violate their First Amendment rights, even with these concerns in mind.

President Trump issued an executive order in August to ban WeChat, citing the Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act. But a group of users calling themselves the WeChat Users Alliance not officially logged into WeChat or parent company Tencent claim that banning the app in the United States would violate users’ free speech rights, and a such a ban specifically targets Chinese Americans.

There is no alternative app that does everything WeChat does, the group argues, claiming the super app is the primary way for Chinese speakers in the United States to participate in social life and receive news. and information, make phone calls and video conferences, upload documents and photos, and make payments. WeChat has 19 million US users and 1 billion users worldwide. And amid the coronavirus pandemic, it has been used by police departments in the United States to notify users of testing locations, arrange delivery of medical supplies, and allow families to stay in touch with elderly relatives in retirement homes, according to the covenant.

But the government views WeChat’s parent company Tencent as a security risk. Tencent may collect a digital facsimile of a person’s life on WeChat, Justice Department attorney Serena Orloff said in Thursday’s hearing, reinforcing administrations’ argument that Tencent is too tight aligned with the Chinese Communist Party. Orloff argued that there are other apps offering functions similar to WeChat that were widely available.

The previous order blocked the Commerce Department’s order that would have banned US transactions on WeChat. And although the U.S. government says it has identified significant national security threats, there is little evidence that its effective ban on WeChat for all U.S. users addresses these concerns, Beeler wrote.

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