WASHINGTON – The federal government on Friday appealed a judge’s decision that prevented the Trump administration from banning WeChat, the popular Chinese-owned messaging app.
The Justice Department stated in a brief file that it had appealed an injunction from Judge Laurel Beeler of the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Justice Department spokeswoman Mollie Timmons declined to comment. The appeal was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit.
The decision to appeal the injunction blocking the ban escalates the battle for the future of WeChat, owned by Chinese company Tencent Holdings. Washington officials have increasingly tried to prevent people in the US from using Chinese apps like WeChat and TikTok, and have worked to ban Chinese telecommunications products from American networks.
Last month, the Department of Commerce blocked American companies like Google and Apple from hosting WeChat in their app stores, as well as prevented companies from hosting their data or serving content to their users. However, Judge Beeler blocked the ban last month, days before it was due to go into effect, in response to a request from a group claiming to represent WeChat users.
Judge Beeler issued an injunction because “serious questions on the matter” were her argument that the ban violated the first amendment. A Justice Department attorney argued that the rules were tightly drafted to protect the right of WeChat users to divulge personal and business information.
“We do not believe that they created a basis for the well-founded opinion of Judge Beeler to be disrupted or for the appeal to remain pending,” said Michael Bien, attorney for WeChat users. He said the government had “once again” ruled out concerns about the First Amendment’s ban.
The government had previously asked the judge to suspend her restraining order before formally appealing the verdict.
Beijing has been blocking American websites and apps for years. But it is only in recent years that the US government has taken action against Chinese-owned companies. It has pushed American companies to abandon Chinese telecommunications providers like Huawei and ZTE. More recently, it has targeted Chinese consumer apps like Grindr, TikTok, and WeChat.
In August, President Trump signed an ordinance banning WeChat at midnight on September 13. The injunction temporarily delayed the ban. The app is widely used worldwide, including by people in the United States who regularly communicate with friends and family in China.
The Trump administration has also pursued a similar ban on TikTok, the viral video app from Chinese company ByteDance. The first part of the ban, which would block the app for online stores, was delayed so the company could try to land a deal with Oracle and Walmart that would give U.S. shareholders more control over the app.
Last weekend, a judge issued an injunction that temporarily blocked the TikTok ban.