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Justice Department Asks Judge to Allow Banning Wechat From US App Stores

Justice Department Asks Judge to Allow Banning Wechat From US App Stores

Friday, 25 September, 2020 - 08:15
FILE PHOTO: The messenger app WeChat is seen among US flags in this illustration picture taken Aug. 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

The US Justice Department asked a federal judge in San Francisco early on Friday to allow the government to bar Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google from offering WeChat for download in US app stores pending an appeal.

The filing asked US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to put on hold her preliminary injunction issued Saturday.

That injunction blocked the US Commerce Department order which was set to take effect late on Sept. 20 and that would also bar other US transactions with Tencent Holding's 0700.HK WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the US.

The Justice Department filing said Beeler’s order was in error and “permits the continued, unfettered use of WeChat, a mobile application that the Executive Branch has determined constitutes a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Tencent had put forward a “mitigation proposal” that sought to create a new US version of the app, deploy specific security measures to protect the new apps source code, partner with a US cloud provider for user data storage, and manage the new app through a US-based entity, the filing said, Reuters reported.

However, its proposal still allowed Tencent to retain ownership of WeChat and did not address US concerns over the company, it added.

In support of its argument, the Justice Department made public portions of a Sept. 17 Commerce Department memo outlining the WeChat transactions to be banned.

“The WeChat mobile application collects and transmits sensitive personal information on US persons, which is accessible to Tencent and stored in data centers in China and Canada,” the memo said.

Beeler said WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.”

The Justice Department filing said “the First Amendment does not bar regulation of WeChat simply because it has achieved the popularity and dependency sought by (China), precisely so it can surveil users, promote its propaganda, and otherwise place US national security at risk.”

The government sought an expedited ruling from Beeler no later than Oct. 1 on its request to stay her order pending appeal.

WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

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