By Sebastian Herrera and Katy Stech Ferek 

A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the Trump administration's executive order curbing Americans' use of WeChat, upholding a motion from users of the popular Chinese-owned messaging and e-commerce app.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler entered an order Sunday for a preliminary injunction blocking the federal ban on U.S. downloads and other functions from going into force as scheduled for 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

The ruling is a victory for WeChat's owner, Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., and the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, the nonprofit organization representing several mobile app users that filed the motion against the Trump administration in August. The group, which has said it isn't affiliated with Tencent, said it consists of users who rely on WeChat for business and personal reasons.

In her 22-page order, Judge Beeler agreed with free-speech arguments raised by the user groups, saying she is convinced that "there are no viable substitute platforms or apps for the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community."

"WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat," she said in the order.

The mobile app, which has 19 million regular users in the U.S. and more than 1.2 billion users world-wide, enables users to send messages, make phone calls, transfer money. It also functions as a social-media platform, and is widely used by companies in China -- including U.S. companies operating there -- for business communications and marketing.

The Trump administration contends that the data that WeChat collects from U.S. users could be shared with the Chinese government. The company disagrees, saying it "incorporates the highest standards of user privacy and data security."

Judge Beeler said that, while the U.S. government's concerns about the national security threats are significant, "the specific evidence about WeChat is modest."

Representatives for Tencent didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com and Katy Stech Ferek at katherine.stech@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 20, 2020 10:32 ET (14:32 GMT)

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