A judge in California has blocked the Commerce Department’s ban on new downloads of China-based messaging app WeChat, Reuters reported Sunday. US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said in her order that WeChat users showed “serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”
On Friday, the Commerce Department outlined how the bans on WeChat and TikTok that President Trump had been threatening for months would work: Beginning today at midnight, US users would not be able to download the apps from Apple and Google’s app stores. A tentative agreement appeared to be reached Saturday for a new TikTok entity, TikTok Global, part of a partnership with Oracle and Walmart, so the Commerce Department postponed the TikTok ban until September 27th. “I have given the deal my blessing,” the president said.
A group of WeChat users calling themselves the WeChat Alliance, filed a lawsuit last month, arguing that the ban would violate users’ due process and free speech rights. The lawsuit noted that the ban potentially targeted Chinese-Americans, since WeChat is “the primary app Chinese-speakers in the U.S. use to participate in social life by connecting with loved ones, sharing special moments, arguing ideas, receiving up-to-the minute news, and participating in political discussions and advocacy.” The WeChat Alliance is not affiliated with the company in any official capacity.
Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce Department order that would have banned US transactions on WeChat. And, while the US government has identified “significant” threats to national security, there is “scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns,” Beeler wrote.
The Commerce Department did not immediately comment Sunday.
Update September 20th 10:27AM ET: Adds more details from judge’s order