Sunday 20 September 2020 3:18 pm

Judge blocks Trump's Wechat ban on constitutional grounds

A US judge has blocked the US Commerce Department’s order for app stores to remove Chinese messaging app Wechat, ahead of a ban coming into force today.

The Commerce Department issued an order on Friday requiring Apple and Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app Wechat for downloads by this evening. The order also previously included video app Tiktok.

US magistrate judge Laurel Beeler said in an order that Wechat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favour.”

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Beeler’s injunction also blocked the government order that would have barred other deals with Wechat in the US that could have degraded the site’s usability for current US users.

The US Justice Department had previously encouraged Beeler not to block the order, arguing it would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.”

Beeler said today that “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China is considerable, the specific evidence about Wechat is modest”.

Read more: Tiktok and Wechat US downloads to be banned from Sunday

“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,” she added.

A legal representative for the Wechat users said: “The United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the Wechat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”

The US Commerce Department has yet to issue a statement.