Earlier Friday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge in San Francisco to allow the government to ban Apple Inc and Google Alphabet Inc from offering WeChat for download in U.S. app stores pending an appeal.
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The case is asking the judge from the American magistrate Laurel Biller to keep her preliminary order, issued on Saturday. The order blocked an order from the US Department of Commerce, which was due to take effect late on September 20 and which would also ban other transactions in the US with Tencent Holding̵
The Justice Department statement said Beeler’s order was erroneous and “permits the continued, unhindered use of WeChat, a mobile application that the executive branch has identified as a threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy.”
Tencent declined to comment.
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In support of its argument, the Ministry of Justice published parts of a note from the Ministry of Commerce on September 17, stating the WeChat transactions that should be banned. “The WeChat mobile application collects and transmits sensitive personal information about individuals from the United States, which is available to Tencent and stored in data centers in China and Canada,” the note said.
Biller said WeChat users who filed the lawsuit “showed serious issues that pertain to the substance of the First Amendment request.”
A statement from the Ministry of Justice stated that “the First Amendment does not prohibit the regulation of WeChat, simply because it has achieved the popularity and dependence sought by (China), precisely to monitor consumers, promote its propaganda and otherwise expose it to US national security risk. “
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The government sought an expeditious decision from Beeler no later than October 1 on his request to suspend her order pending an appeal.
WeChat has an average of 19 million active users a day in the United States, analyst companies Apptopia said in early August. It is popular with Chinese students, Americans living in China, and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.
Biller writes that “the government’s overall interest in national security is certainly significant. But in this record – although the government found that China’s activities raised significant national security concerns – it provided little evidence that its effective ban on WeChat for all US users are addressing these concerns. “
WeChat is a mobile application that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of everyday life for many people in China and boasts over 1 billion users.
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TikTok on Wednesday requested a similar preliminary order from a U.S. judge in Washington, who gave the government until 2:30 p.m. on Friday to respond to the request or postpone a ban on downloading new TikTok apps to the U.S. force late Sunday.
(Report by David Shepardsson; Additional report by Pei Li in Hong Kong; Edited by Sri Navaratnam and Raju Gopalakrishnan)