By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Friday said it was appealing a judge’s decision to block the government from barring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google from offering Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for download in U.S. app stores.
The government said it was appealing the Sept. 19 preliminary junction issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The injunction blocked the U.S. Commerce Department order, which would also bar other U.S. transactions with Tencent Holding’s WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.
A U.S. spokesman for Tencent did not immediately comment.
The Justice Department said earlier that 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.”
Lawyers for the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, the group behind the legal challenge to the WeChat ban, said on Friday the department “has still presented no compelling national security interest to justify such an unprecedented ban” and will oppose the effort.
The group noted Tencent tried to negotiate a settlement with the Commerce Department and offered a number of mitigation measures to address data security concerns.
Beeler said WeChat users “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.” The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech.
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.
WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.
On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington issued a similar preliminary injunction to halt the U.S. app store ban on new TikTok downloads. Nichols has not decided whether to block other restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 12 that could effectively ban the app’s use, pending a series of court filings due by Oct. 30.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Paul Simao)