Federal judge blocks new DOJ effort to ban WeChat downloads from US app stores, citing users’ First Amendment rights

Federal judge blocks new DOJ effort to ban WeChat downloads from US app stores, citing users’ First Amendment rights

Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler shot down the Justice Department’s renewed attempt to prohibit the app in a ruling on Friday, upholding a previous decision on the grounds that the ban is “not narrowly tailored to address the government’s significant interest in national security” and does not survive “scrutiny under the First Amendment.”

Though the DOJ argued the move would be “content neutral” and respect the speech rights of WeChat users, Beeler concluded that the restrictions “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests” and would leave “no viable alternative platforms or apps for the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community.”

A pair of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in August designated Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok as threats to US national security, accusing Beijing of using the programs for surveillance and data-theft. The president directed the Department of Commerce to prohibit all US transactions with the apps’ Chinese owners – Tencent and ByteDance – including removing them from US-based app stores.

Beeler’s first ruling on the attempted ban was handed down last month following a legal challenge by the WeChat Users Alliance, a US nonprofit, which argued that barring the app would be a “serious violation of the Constitutional rights of WeChat users in the US.” The judge agreed to temporarily halt the ban, saying the suit raised serious First Amendment concerns, prompting the DOJ to submit new arguments, which were heard and rejected on Friday.

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The Trump administration’s bid to ban TikTok has run into similar obstacles, with a judge granting an injunction against the move last month, allowing the app to remain on offer in app stores for now. Though the court sided with TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, the ruling fell short of outright blocking the restrictions, which are still set to come into effect November 12. The company is now pursuing further legal action to overturn the ban altogether, even while it continues negotiations to transfer ownership stakes to US firms Walmart and Oracle in hopes of evading the restrictions should its lawsuit fail.

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