The WeChat app in the App Store on a smartphone. (ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG)
SAN FRANCISCO - A US judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in US app stores.
READ MORE: US court seen sinking Trump ban on WeChat
US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.
WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat
WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.
WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.
The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.
In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a US Commerce Department order set to take effect on Sept 20 that would have required the app to be removed from US app stores.
The Commerce Department order issued on Sept 18 would also bar other US transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.
US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests’”
"The result is that consumers in the US cannot download or update the WeChat app, use it to send or receive money, and -- because US support for the app by data hosting and content caching will be eliminated -- the app, while perhaps technically available to existing US users, likely will be useless to them," Judge Beeler wrote in her order.
The US government then submitted additional information to the court, appealing to alter the court's ruling.
According to Beeler's new order, the court preliminarily enjoined the ban because the plaintiffs, US-based users of WeChat, met the standards for a preliminary injunction.
She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.’”
The plaintiffs, including the US WeChat Users Alliance (USWUA) and other app users, argued that WeChat is irreplaceable for its users in the United States, particularly in the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community.
WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.
In a similar case, a US appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from US app stores of short video-sharing app TikTok.
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