US judge rejects new administration’s offer to remove WeChat from app stores

A US judge in San Francisco on Friday denied a motion by the Justice Department to reverse a decision that allowed Apple and Alphabet’s Google to continue offering Chinese-owned WeChat for download in US app stores.

U.S. Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence hadn’t changed her mind about the Tencent app. As with the Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued that WeChat threatens national security.

WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the US. It is popular with 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 similar services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of everyday life for many in China and has more than 1 billion users.

The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision to allow continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the U.S. Ninth Circle Court of Appeals, but no decision is likely before December.

In a lawsuit filed by WeChat users last month, Beeler blocked an order from the U.S. Department of Commerce that is slated to go into effect on September 20 and would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores.

The Department of Commerce order would also block other US transactions with WeChat, potentially rendering the app unusable in the US.

“The record does not support the conclusion that the government” closely coordinated “the prohibited transactions to protect its national security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday.

She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions” incur significantly more language than is necessary to advance the government’s legitimate interests.

WeChat users argued that the government was seeking “an unprecedented ban on an entire medium of communication” and was only offering “speculation” about harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.

In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to expedite a government appeal against a ruling preventing the government from banning new downloads of the Chinese short video sharing app TikTok from U.S. app stores.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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