A judge blocked an attempt by the U.S. government to ban China’s messaging and payments app, WeChat.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the ban raised serious questions related to the Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech.
The Commerce Department announced a ban on WeChat appearing in U.S. app stores from Sunday, effectively shutting it down.
The Trump administration has alleged that it poses a threat to national security.
He says he could pass user data to the Chinese government.
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WeChat and China have strongly denied this claim. Tencent, the conglomerate that owns WeChat, had previously called the US ban “unfortunate.”
The move comes just after TikTok, which was also named in the Commerce Department order, struck a deal with U.S. companies Oracle and Walmart to hopefully keep them operating.
What happened in court?
The Justice Department demanded that the order not be blocked after a group of WeChat users filed a complaint challenging it.
The department argued that this “would upset and displace the president’s resolve on how best to deal with threats to national security.”
However, Judge Beeler, sitting in San Francisco, noted that “while the general evidence on the national security threat related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence regarding WeChat is modest” .
Why does the United States want apps banned?
US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the decision to block the app was made “to combat China’s malicious collection of personal data from US citizens.”
The department said WeChat has collected “vast amounts of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories.”
Friday’s Commerce Department statement said the ruling Chinese Communist Party “has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.”
Tencent, which owns WeChat, said messages on its app were private.
What is WeChat?
WeChat was introduced in 2011. It is a versatile app for users to send messages, make mobile payments, and use local services. It has been described as an “app for everything” in China and has over 1 billion monthly users.
Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat must censor content that the government deems illegal. In March, a report said WeChat was censoring keywords about the coronavirus outbreak as early as January 1.
But WeChat insists that encryption means others can’t ‘spy’ on your messages, and that content such as text, audio, and images isn’t stored on its servers – and is deleted once. that all recipients have read them.