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DOJ Seeks To Overturn Ruling To Prevent WeChat Ban

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to overturn a federal magistrate’s ruling last month that stopped a U.S. ban on WeChat, China’s social media, messaging and digital payments app.

DOJ attorneys asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to examine U.S. Magistrate Laurel Beeler’s judgment in favor of a WeChat users’ group, which found that the ban is in violation of free-speech provisions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In August, citing data security issues, President Donald Trump issued executive orders banning WeChat and its parent company Tencent Holdings as well as TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance Ltd. The ban was intended to end U.S. transactions with the apps or their parent companies.

“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” noted the executive order on WeChat. “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

The U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, the nonprofit founded by app users filed suit against the Trump administration. The complaint alleged that Trump’s directive is unconstitutional and violates free speech.

“We think it would be unconstitutional to ban the use of the app if that’s what they finally come out with,” Michael Bien, one of the group’s attorneys, told The Wall Street Journal. “If they take the app off the market, we will fight it.”

Beeler, who serves in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, ruled that the government failed to provide enough evidence of its national security concerns to warrant the ban.

Following the ruling, the DOJ filed more details about their national security concerns regarding the Chinese government’s collection of data on American users of the app. The government asked Beeler to reconsider her earlier ruling after reviewing the new information. As a result, the judge set a hearing for Oct. 15.

After Trump issued the order, users in the U.S. raced to download the Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app. It was installed about 54,000 times over a two-day period, according to Sensor Tower, the San Francisco-based data analytics company. That’s 28 times the 1,900 downloads reported for the same two-day period one week before.

In addition, WeChat Work, the company’s office communication platform, saw 58,000 installs during the same two-day period. That was 193 times the 300 downloads it saw the prior week, according to Sensor Tower researchers.

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