WeChat users sue to block Trump ban on Chinese app
A group of WeChat users is suing the Trump administration in an attempt to block enforcement of an executive order that would effectively ban the popular Chinese messaging app in the United States.
In a lawsuit filed on Friday in federal court in San Francisco, the nonprofit group WeChat Users Alliance and some of the app’s users claimed that the executive action violates several of their constitutional rights while also destroying an “irreplaceable cultural bridge” for those who use the app to connect with family and friends in China.
The complaint asked the court to declare the executive order unconstitutional and to block the administration from moving forward with its implementation. The plaintiffs said that WeChat and its Chinese parent company, Tencent Holdings, were not affiliated with the legal effort.
“In short, the threatened displacement of these WeChat users from their public space is an irreparable harm that requires judicial intervention,” the lawsuit said.
President Trump in early August signed a pair of executive orders targeting WeChat and TikTok, the short-form video app owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, on grounds that they posed a threat to national security and foreign policy. The order declared a ban on all U.S. transactions with the companies starting on Sept. 20, which will likely affect the apps’ placement on the Google and Apple app stores.
Under the order, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will identify the transactions that will be barred once it goes into effect. However, the lawsuit argues that the vagueness of the initial order leaves “individuals and companies at a loss” as to whether they will risk civil or criminal penalties “if they do not fundamentally change the way they communicate or run their businesses.
They asked the court to stay the implementation date of any penalty provisions from the order “until a reasonable time after” more information is offered on what U.S. transactions will be prohibited.
Friday’s lawsuit came just a day before TikTok, which boasts more than 100 million users in the U.S., announced its plans to move forward with a complaint against the administration.
“To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the Executive Order through the judicial system,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill, noting that Trump’s decision lacked “due process” and “paid no attention to facts.”
A TikTok employee is also mounting a legal challenge on behalf of U.S.-based workers. Patrick Ryan, a technical manager at TikTok, said 1,500 U.S. employees are at risk of not receiving paychecks once a ban on transactions goes into effect.
Trump invoked national security and cited concerns about the collections of user data from Chinese-linked companies while issuing the orders earlier this month.
In addition to its constitutional claims, the WeChat users alleged that the White House has provided no evidence to support its position.
WeChat has roughly 19 million daily active users in the United States, including approximately 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, according to the lawsuit. The app is commonly used by students and expats to communicate with people back in China, where apps including Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked.