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U.S. Appeals Injunction Against WeChat Ban

WASHINGTON — The federal government on Friday appealed a judge’s ruling that prevented the Trump administration from imposing a ban on WeChat, the popular Chinese-owned messaging app.

The Justice Department said in a short filing that it was appealing a preliminary injunction issued by Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of U.S. District Court for the North District of California. Mollie Timmons, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment further. The appeal was made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The decision to appeal the preliminary injunction blocking the ban escalates the battle over the future of WeChat, owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings. Officials in Washington have increasingly looked to stop people in the United States from using Chinese-owned apps like WeChat and TikTok, and have worked to banish Chinese telecommunications products from American networks.

Last month, the Department of Commerce moved to block American companies like Google and Apple from hosting WeChat in their app stores, as well as bar companies from hosting its data or helping to deliver content to its users. But Judge Beeler blocked the ban last month, days before it was supposed to take effect, in response to a request from a group that says it represents WeChat users.

ImageThe Justice Department’s move escalates the battle over the future of WeChat, owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings.
Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

Judge Beeler granted a preliminary injunction because there were “serious questions going to the merits” of their argument that the ban violated the First Amendment. A Department of Justice lawyer argued in the case that the rules were narrowly written to protect the rights of WeChat’s users to share personal and business information.

“We don’t think that they’ve raised any basis for Judge Beeler’s well-reasoned opinion to be disturbed or stayed pending appeal,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for the WeChat users. He said the government had “once again” discounted First Amendment concerns about the ban.

The government had previously asked the judge to put a stay on her preliminary injunction before it formally appealed the ruling.

Beijing has for years blocked American websites and apps. But only in recent years has the American government acted against Chinese-owned companies. It has pushed American companies to abandon Chinese telecom providers like Huawei and ZTE. More recently, it has targeted Chinese-owned consumer apps like Grindr, TikTok and WeChat.

In August, President Trump signed an executive order banning WeChat as of midnight on Sept. 13. The injunction temporarily delayed the ban. The app is widely used around the world, including by people in the United States who communicate regularly with friends and family in China.

The Trump administration has also pursued a similar ban of TikTok, the viral video app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. The first part of the ban, which would block the app from online stores, was delayed to allow the company to try to strike a deal with Oracle and Walmart that gives more control over the app to shareholders in the United States.

Last weekend, a judge issued an injunction temporarily blocking the TikTok ban.