What is banned is never really banned, it seems. A judge in California has prevented the Trump administration from blocking WeChat, which the Commerce Department planned to ban from U.S. app stores, on the very day it was supposed to be banned.
Judge Laurel Beeler of the District Court for the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction sought by the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a nonprofit started to challenge the executive order issued by President Donald Trump in August effectively banning the popular social messaging app. The U.S. WeChat Users Alliance states that it has no relationship with WeChat or its Chinese parent company, Tencent.
Plaintiffs also include individual and business users of WeChat, according to the order released on Sunday.
In the order, Beeler said the court had granted the motion on the ground that the plaintiffs had shown “serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim” and that the “balance of hardships” tipped in the plaintiffs’ favour.
For its part, the government argued that the injunction would “frustrate and displace the President’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.” While the judge acknowledged that the national security threats related to China identified by the government were significant and that the general evidence to support the threat was considerable, she said the evidence relating to WeChat was modest.
“Also, on this record, the regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest,” Beeler wrote.
According to the New York Times, the government could appeal the injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court and try to get it overturned. The Times reported that the Justice Department was reviewing Beeler’s order on Sunday.
On Friday, the Commerce Department announced that it would ban new downloads of WeChat and the video-sharing app TikTok in response to President Trump’s executive orders on both apps. The Trump administration considers that the Chinese-owned apps are a national security concern because it believes they could turn over U.S. user data to the Chinese government.
In an interview on Fox, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the ban would essentially shut down WeChat in the U.S.
“For all practical purposes it will be shut down in the U.S., but only in the U.S., as of midnight on Monday by the Commerce Department ruling,” Ross said.
Apparently that won’t be the case, though. TikTok also got a small reprieve from its ban this weekend after Trump announced that he had approved a deal between American companies and TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance. Under the deal, which has still not received formal approval, Oracle and Walmart would take a 20% stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. ByteDance would still retain roughly 80% ownership of TikTok Global, but since U.S. investors own approximately 40% of ByteDance itself, Trump has decided that’s a mighty fine deal.
If you just read the above and thought that something doesn’t seem right, yeah, we know. We think so, too.
In the end, WeChat will continue in the U.S. for now, although it’s certain that this isn’t the last we’ll hear about the issue.
Editor's Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.