After an unusual Saturday afternoon hearing in SF, a federal judge entered an order that temporarily blocked a Trump Administration mandate banning "downloads" of the Chinese-owned global messaging app WeChat — keeping it in popular app stores for at least a little while longer.
Messaging apps and platforms (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and, of course, WeChat) have skyrocketed in popularity over the past half-decade. For example: WeChat, alone, has over 1.2 billion MAU (Monthly Active Users) across the world — and the platform for millions is a lifeline to family members far away. A recent New York Times dive into the importance of WeChat proved that it's an essential means of communication for millions of Americans who can't travel to China because of the coronavirus and other travel rules.
WeChat generated 29.63 million employment opportunities in 2019, with Mini Programs being a key job driver.— WeChat (@WeChatApp) May 15, 2020
Read more from the 2019-2020 WeChat Employment Impact Report in English here: https://t.co/dOkxdg5BTx pic.twitter.com/lpx1dYe1O7
So, when the Trump administration moved to block and severely restrict certain services on WeChat — as well as Chinese-owned TikTok — Friday, chaos and anxiety ensued as people scrambled how to communicate and exchange funds with loved ones across oceans. However, after a hearing in a San Francisco courtroom yesterday, KPIX reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler introduced an order earlier Sunday that motioned a preliminary injunction to the court via the plaintiffs (a WeChat user group and six WeChat users) — temporarily blocking the Trump Administration’s restrictions concerning the messaging platform.
In issuing the injunction, Beeler wrote that the plaintiffs had shown “serious questions” in their claim that the executive order threatens the users’ First Amendment rights.
“The plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat,” Beeler wrote, claiming that the executive order is an infringement on First Amendment rights.
According to the Washington Post, the United States Department of Commerce took actions Friday that focused primarily on new WeChat downloads and restricting the ability to transfer payments through the app. However, as it was also pointed out by both daily users and experts in the field, those who already have the messaging service downloaded would still likely experience declines in service overtime... because those with active accounts wouldn’t have access to software upgrades or updated security patches.
Those woes, at least of the time being, are no more. And should Executive Order 13943 — which is responsible for the proposed stipulations — or another iteration find footing, Beeler says there are far more "obvious alternatives" to an outright ban on the app.
(One of the reasons the executive order was motioned in the first place was over security concerns about Chinese surveillance technologies, primarily in the hands of government employees.)
“And, as the plaintiffs point out,” Beeler wrote. "There are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security.”
Per Axios, the temporary injunction also means WeChat will remain on both Apple's and Google's app stores... for now.
Image: Jonas Lee