US Government’s Decision To Ban WeChat Halted By US Judge

The decision of the United States government to impose a ban on the Chinese owned messaging and payments app WeChat  has been clocked by a judge in eth US

Serious questions related to the constitution’s first amendment, guaranteeing free speech were raised by the ban, said US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler.

Starting last Sunday, a bar on WeChat appearing in US app stores, effectively shutting down its services, was announced last Friday by the US Department of Commerce. The US administration alleged that the app is a threat to the country’s national security as the owner of the app, the Chinese tech giant Tencent could pass on user and other data to the Chinese government.

Such allegations have been refuted by both WeChat and China.

Previously, the US ban on WeChat had been described as “unfortunate” by Tencent.

This US court ruling follows close on the heels of a deal between the short video sharing app TikTok and US companies Oracle and Walmart which would hopefully allow the app to keep operating in the US. TikTok was another Chinese firm that was named in the Department of Commerce order.

The executive order of US president Donald Trump that ordered the shutdown of WeChat in the country was challenged in court by a group of US WeChat users.

Blocking the executive order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security”, said the US Justice Department in response to the court ruling.

However Judge Beeler, sitting in San Francisco, noted that “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest”.

The decision to block the app was taken “to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data”, said the US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement.

WeChat gathered “vast swathes of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories”, the department said.

The governing Chinese Communist Party “has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US”, said the statement issued by the commerce department on Friday.

Messages on its app are private, Tencent, which owns WeChat, has said.

About 20 million people in the US use WeChat with the majority o the users being those from the Chinese and South East Asian diaspora settled in the country.

Set up in 2011, WeChat is known for its multipurpose functions. The app not only allows its users to send messages, it also give the option to users to make mobile payments and use other local services.

The app is very popular in China and has been described as an “app for everything”. The app has more than one billion monthly users in China.

But there is strict control of the Chinese government over the app and the operators are required to censor content the government deems just like all other Chinese social media platforms.

A report about WeChat censoring key words about the coronavirus outbreak as early as January 1 was published in March.

(Adapted from BBC.com)

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