Judge to Hear Arguments on Trump's WeChat Restrictions --4th Update
By Sebastian Herrera
A California federal judge will hear additional arguments
Saturday as part of an emergency push to delay enforcement of an
executive order placing restrictions on the app WeChat.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler initially ruled Friday that
an existing motion seeking a preliminary injunction on President
Trump's Aug. 6 executive order was moot because the Commerce
Department detailed what transactions would be restricted on
WeChat. But she left the door open for a new ruling to happen
before Sunday, when the restrictions are scheduled to go into
The group that sued the Trump administration over the executive
order, called the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, continued to press
its case at a hastily scheduled Friday hearing, describing the
government's moves as an infringement on the constitutional rights
of WeChat users.
"This is nothing else than a ban," Michael Bien, an attorney
representing the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, said during the Friday
hearing. "What matters is our clients' rights to use the app will
end on Sunday."
Lawyers representing the U.S. government have argued other apps
could provide users with features and services similar to WeChat,
so the ban doesn't infringe on their First Amendment rights.
The Trump administration said Friday it would ban U.S. downloads
of Chinese-owned apps WeChat and TikTok after Sunday night, meaning
the apps may have to be removed from marketplaces like Apple Inc.'s
App Store and Google Play. The administration is also barring money
transfers in the U.S. through WeChat.
It sets the stage for an escalation in a battle between the
world's two-largest economies over the future of technology.
American companies whose fortunes are linked to China had also
pushed back against the administration's plans, saying it could
undermine their competitiveness.
Tencent Holdings Co., the parent of WeChat and one of Asia's
largest technology companies, has played down the threat of a U.S.
ban on WeChat, asserting that a potential U.S. ban would apply only
to the international version of the app. Tencent said Friday that
the restrictions were unfortunate and pledged to continue
discussions with the government and stakeholders on being able to
provide services to U.S. users.
WeChat and its domestic sister app Weixin have about 1.21
billion monthly active users combined. On an earnings call in
August, Tencent executives sought to distinguish the two apps and
allay investors' fears. The company generates less than 2% of
revenue from the U.S., a Tencent executive said at the time.
Administration officials have cited concerns that data the app
collects from U.S. users could be shared with the Chinese
Justice Department lawyers have said that the government
wouldn't pursue legal action against individuals who use WeChat "to
convey personal or business information."
Mr. Trump last month issued a similar executive order focused on
the popular video app TikTok. Oracle Corp. is part of a group that
struck a deal with TikTok parent ByteDance Ltd. to revamp the app's
U.S. operations. Discussions between U.S. officials and TikTok's
suitors are ongoing, though ByteDance has said the Chinese
government also has to approve the sale.
WeChat bundles social media, text messages, mobile payments,
corporate marketing and other functions into one app. While
WeChat's users are primarily in China, the app is important among
the Chinese diaspora in the U.S. and is widely used by foreigners
with professional or personal ties in China.
As with the order against TikTok, the order involving WeChat
says the company collects vast amounts of data that could
potentially expose the personal information of Americans and
Chinese nationals living in the U.S. to the Chinese government.
TikTok and WeChat have said they protect the privacy of their
Apple, Ford Motor Co., Walmart Inc., Walt Disney Co. and other
multinational companies with strong business ties to China
previously raised concerns to White House officials about the
potential ban, arguing that it could affect their competitiveness
and restrict them from forming deals in the country.
TikTok also filed a lawsuit in August against the U.S.
government potentially banning the app.
Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 18, 2020 19:11 ET (23:11 GMT)
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