An American judge has blocked the US government's ban on the downloads of Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat hours before it was due to take effect, as the two sides are already involved in a protracted dispute over trade and technology issues.
The administration of US President Donald Trump ordered on Friday a ban on downloads of the messaging platform WeChat as well as popular video-sharing app TikTok. The ban was scheduled to be implemented at 11:59 p.m. local time on Sunday night.
Citing concerns over free speech, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler issued a ruling at the California court and granted the "motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation" of the US government order.
The Trump administration’s actions would affect users' First Amendment rights as an effective ban "eliminates all meaningful access to communication in the plaintiffs' community,'' said Beeler, adding that an injunction would be in the public interest.
Washington had earlier claimed that the ban would not restrict free speech because WeChat users still "are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat."
Beeler also underlined that specific evidence about WeChat posing a national security threat was "modest.”
WeChat, owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, is a messaging-focused application popular in China and with many Chinese-speaking Americans. The messaging platform has around 19 million active daily users in the US.
As Trump faces an uphill re-election battle, his administration officials have described the measures as essential to safeguard national security from alleged Chinese espionage through the platforms.
Concerning TikTok, the US president announced on Saturday that he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the data partner for the video-sharing app.
The deal includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global that averts shutdown.
TikTok, owned by China's ByteDance, confirmed the agreement ahead on the Sunday night deadline.
The US Department of Commerce on Saturday announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27 due to "recent positive developments."
Relations between the United States and China have hit the lowest level in decades. The two are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including trade, human rights, the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the coronavirus pandemic.
The US has also been using national security pretexts as an excuse to impose restrictions on Chinese communication apps and technologies. It has already targeted Chinese tech giant Huawei over allegations of security threats.
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