California Judge Hears Arguments for Preliminary Injunction Against WeChat Ban in the U.S.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler for the Northern District of California – San Francisco heard arguments Saturday afternoon for a preliminary injunction to halt the ban of Tencent’s multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app, WeChat, in the U.S.  The order was issued by the Commerce Department on Friday. 

Attorney Michael Bien, representing the U.S WeChat Alliance, argued that the government’s ban of the app would do irreparable harm to the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, that there is no alternative application that can be used for Chinese Americans to communicate (because many do not speak English), and that no proof has been presented to-date by the government that WeChat poses a threat to national security. Bien also argued that the order from Commerce was too vague in scope.

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael Drezner said in his argument that the ban would not make the app unusable for users immediately, but certain features will see “degradation” over time.  He acknowledged that the app would become unavailable to new users, but argued that there were plenty of alternatives to WeChat that could be used – an argument Bien challenged. He also said that the ban was aimed more at “transactions” with Tencent.

Judge Beeler said that she would begin drafting an order, but did not indicate what her decision was at the close of the hearing. An order is likely to be released sometime before the deadline of the ban, which is Sept. 29, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

The request for a preliminary injunction was filed on Friday afternoon on behalf of a group of WeChat users in the U.S. who were concerned that the ban would unreasonably impact their lives.

This is a developing story.

On Friday, the Commerce Department issued an order effectively banning both WeChat and ByteDance’s short-form video app TikTok from app stores on iOS and Android devices. The order from Commerce was at the direction of an executive order issued in August by U.S. President Donald Trump banning transactions with the apps, citing “national security risks.”

WeChat owner Tencent Holdings has deep connective tissue to the video games industry including League of Legends and Valorant developer Riot Games, Fortnite and Rocket League owner Epic Games. On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) sent letters to Riot, Epic, and other video game makers with financial ties to Tencent asking for information on security protocols that protect users in the United States.   

The Administration’s look into WeChat appears to have opened the door to taking a closer look at companies that have investments from Tencent Holdings and signals that wholly-owned Chinese game companies and companies with investments from China-based entities could face greater regulatory scrutiny in the future. Tencent has investments in a number of companies running esports leagues and games (many of which run competitions in North America) including Rainbow Six Siege owner Ubisoft, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League owner Activision Blizzard, PUBG and PUBG Mobile owner Bluehole, and Free Fire owner SEA Limited (which owns Garena). It also fully owns mobile developer Supercell, makers of Clash Royale and Brawl Stars.

On Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network said that “for all practical purposes” WeChat would be shut down in the U.S. when the order officially takes effect Sunday, though an unnamed Commerce Dept. official told Reuters that the app would still work for existing U.S. users but might experience intermittent outages and a degradation in some services. The app will not be available for new users on Android or iOS device stores once the order is in place.

Also on Friday, downloads of TikTok and WeChat saw modest increases. TikTok downloads rose approximately 12% in the U.S. on Friday compared to Thursday, while WeChat saw an increase of 150% from Thursday, according to early estimates from Sensor Tower. 


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