Judge to Hear Arguments on Trump's WeChat Restrictions --Update
By Sebastian Herrera
A California federal judge will hear arguments Friday 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 was moot
because the Commerce Department Friday morning detailed what
transactions would be restricted on WeChat. But she left the door
open for an emergency hearing on the matter, and the group that
sued the Trump administration seeking the injunction, called the
U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, plans to continue pressing its
The alliance, a nonprofit organization, sued the Trump
administration in August to block the app from being restricted in
the U.S. The group has said it isn't affiliated with the app's
owner, Tencent Holdings Ltd.
Attorneys representing the alliance couldn't immediately be
reached for comment.
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.
Attorneys from the WeChat users alliance and the federal
government presented arguments on the preliminary injunction
Thursday in a court hearing.
Michael Drezner, an attorney for the U.S. government, said
during a public hearing Thursday that the president had been within
his power in issuing the order and providing the timeline he did
and that plaintiffs were suing before the government made clear
which transactions they would target.
"The plaintiffs decided to bring these claims before they were
fully crystallized, before they had an actual concrete
controversy," Mr. Drezner said.
Tencent, 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
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
The order raised the possibility that people living in the U.S.
would have a harder time accessing the app or doing business
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.
"This is a super app and something that has multiple functions,
and, critically, it is designed for Chinese-speaking people,"
Michael Bien, an attorney representing the WeChat users alliance,
said in an interview before the hearing. "For this group, it is
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 Inc., 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.
The lawsuit alleges a ban would violate WeChat users' rights to
free speech, due process and equal protection under law. It also
sought notice of which transactions would be barred. Plaintiffs
have said the order illegally targets Chinese-Americans.
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 14:01 ET (18:01 GMT)
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