Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Saying That The US Cannot Block WeChat, Says The Ban Raises 1st Amendment Concerns

from the good-to-see dept

While much of the news this weekend with regards to the President’s plans to block Chinese messaging apps focused on the fake “deal” to avert a TikTok ban, things didn’t go the President’s way on his other planned ban. As you may recall, along with TikTok, Trump issued an executive order to ban WeChat, the very popular Chinese social network/messaging/everything app. Last week, we noted that a bunch of WeChat users in the US were trying to get an injunction to block the ban, as the Commerce Department’s details about the ban proved that its stated goal of protecting Americans was nonsense.

The court held a hearing over the weekend (after also holding hearings on Thursday and Friday) and quickly issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the Commerce Department from putting the WeChat ban in place. As the judge rightly notes, there are significant 1st Amendment concerns with the ban. Basically, the court says that the WeChat users have rightly shown that banning the app likely violates the 1st Amendment and creates prior restraint:

On this record, the plaintiffs have shown serious questions going to the merits of their First
Amendment claim that the Secretary’s prohibited transactions effectively eliminate the plaintiffs’
key platform for communication, slow or eliminate discourse, and are the equivalent of censorship
of speech or a prior restraint on it…. The government —
while recognizing that foreclosing “‘an entire medium of public expression’” is constitutionally problematic — makes the pragmatic argument that other substitute social-media apps permit
communication. But the plaintiffs establish through declarations that there are no viable
substitute platforms or apps for the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community. The
government counters that shutting down WeChat does not foreclose communications for the
plaintiffs, pointing to several declarations showing the plaintiffs’ efforts to switch to new
platforms or apps. But the plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that 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.

The plaintiffs also have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment
claim even if — as the government contends — the Secretary’s identification of prohibited
transactions (1) is a content-neutral regulation, (2) does not reflect the government’s preference or
aversion to the speech, and (3) is subject to intermediate scrutiny. A content-neutral, time-placeor-
manner restriction survives intermediate scrutiny if it (1) is narrowly tailored, (2) serves a
significant governmental interest unrelated to the content of the speech, and (3) leaves open
adequate channels for communication…. To be
narrowly tailored, the restriction must not “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to
further the government’s legitimate interests.”… Unlike a content-based
restriction of speech, it “need not be the least restrictive or least intrusive means of serving the
governments interests. But the government still may not regulate expression in such a manner that
a substantial portion of the burden on speech does not advance its goals.”…

As for the supposed “national security” interests of the US government? The court says “yes, if only the DOJ shared any details.”

Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this
record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant nationalsecurity
concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S.
users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a
complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking
other steps to address data security.

The court did not go into the various other claims by the plaintiffs, though if the case continues they’ll come up later. However, in closing out the ruling, the judge uses the President’s own words in the executive order against him. After the DOJ told the court that the WeChat ban was important for human rights because China heavily censors communications on WeChat… the judge more or less says “um, isn’t that what you’re now trying to do?” and points to the President’s own words about free speech in this very executive order:

Finally, at the hearing, the government cited a Washington Post article contending that a ban
of WeChat is a net positive for human rights: “WeChat it is a closed system that keeps its 1.2
billion users in a parallel universe where they can communicate as long as they don’t cross the
lines, and banning it might eventually strengthen the voices of the Chinese diaspora.” This is
another important point: the federal government — based on its foreign-policy and national security
interests —may not want to countenance (or reward) the Chinese government’s banning
apps outside of the Chinese government’s control and, more generally, censoring or punishing free
speech in China or abroad. But as the President said recently in Executive Order 13925,

Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy. Our Founding Fathers protected this
sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution. The freedom to express and
debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying
the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many
Americans [including the plaintiffs and others in the U.S. WeChat community] follow the
news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events
through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in
many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

End result: the court puts a nationwide injunction saying that the Commerce Department cannot implement the WeChat ban it described last week.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: tencent, wechat

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Saying That The US Cannot Block WeChat, Says The Ban Raises 1st Amendment Concerns”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guysays:

'Curse my own words and standards used against me!'

Well that’s awkward, not only shooting down the ban but using Trump’s own words against it by pointing out that it’s just a titch hypocritical to call out the chinese government for censoring speech only to turn around and do the same thing.

Nice to see a judge not buy the empty ‘national security!’ argument as well, hopefully they’ll stick to their guns on that one and more judges will follow suit, because it is well past time for those two magic words to stop being an instant ‘win the case’ phrase.

Jeffrey Nonkensays:


APK sideloading is the Lite Beer of solutions. Also requires users to be tech savvy. Also requires jailbreaking if it’s an iThing. Also doesn’t address the fact that this ban is racist, hypocritical, illegal and immoral, and offensive to anybody who actually believes in freedom.

But sure, tell ’em to eat cake.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re:

"But sure, tell ’em to eat cake."

Well, it’s coming closer to the point where the advice of eating cake will have to yield the floor to pitchforks and torches.

What is more concerning by far is that whenever a government issues legislation which is insane, impractical, unenforceable and unpopular the system of government as a whole loses more credibility in the nation in question. If a whole citizenry understands the concept of "legislation" to be partisan boilerplate meant to cater to vested interests and rarely, if ever, backed by moral or ethical high ground, then that nation is in trouble deep.

Admittedly the republicans have been far more of a driving force there lately but both parties have certainly gone the extra mile to convince americans that nothing good ever comes from government.



Ah, the old, because "China has an authoritarian regime, that bans a whole bunch of stuff, so the USA should become an authoritarian regime…" argument?

How about, "the USA is a bastion of free speech that the rest of the world looks up to, which makes China look bad in comparison" approach? Oh, I forgot, Trump burnt that boat a while back.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re:

"We can ban your shit because we’re the bad guys, but since you’re the good guys you’re obligated to use ours. Why do I see that as only helping China?"

Because the alternative is you becoming China?

Are you trying to tell people that since <country X> does not respect the US constitution there’s no reason for the US to do so either? THAT is your argument?

Tell me, when did americans choose to flush principle down the toilet out of sheer convenience?

Of course an unscrupulous nation will ignore the rules. That’s always counterweighted by the scrupulous nation which has rules actually being backed by their citizenry and a robust system which neither fears nor favors.

You want to beat China at their own game, feel free to try. You lose all moral high ground, the goodwill of the international community, and eventually sink to the point where China and Russia take over the US arbitration role since, frankly, people will trust you less than they trust even China or Russia, neither of which has the habit of betraying or disparaging their own allies.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:


"So because China bans all other nessaging apps the US is obligated to allow the CCP’s app? "

Because the alternative is for the US to emulate China.

I’m afraid the proper response to criminals and rogues has never been to point a finger and say; "If they don’t want to respect civil rights then we don’t have to either".

That’s the argument of a child throwing a tantrum that the parents of the bully next door are holding their child to lower standards of behavior than your own.

That One Guysays:

'The law protects (accused) crooks, we should ignore it too!'

That’s the argument of a child throwing a tantrum that the parents of the bully next door are holding their child to lower standards of behavior than your own.

Unfortunately it’s also the argument for numerous government agencies and ‘law enforcement’, one that works far more than it should.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: 'The law protects (accused) crooks, we should ignore it too!

"…Unfortunately it’s also the argument for numerous government agencies and ‘law enforcement’, one that works far more than it should."

The last time this world saw a nation governed primarily by entitled man-children was in the last days of the Roman Empire. Nothing new under the sun, I guess, but of all the governments through history to emulate…

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump developed a hankering for the good old early days of his WWF cameo inserts and started beating up drugged wrestlers on camera in an emulation of old Commodus just to show how "tough" he is…

Suman Kumarisays:

Industrial Land In Bahadurgarh

Bahadurgarh Industrial Land. Find Industrial Plots for Sale in Bahadurgarh, Industrial Land in Bahadurgarh, Bahadurgarh Industrial Plots for Sale and Industrial Land Bahadurgarh on IndiaProperty.com, post your property ads to get the best Industrial Land Sale deals from agents, builders and individuals in Bahadurgarh Bahadurgarh, offering Real Estate Agent in Bahadurgarh, Selling Properties in Haryana, Buying Properties in India. Home; About Us; Our Services. Real Estate Agent; Buying Properties; Selling Properties; Find Property.
Website :- https://www.1stkeys.in/properties/Industrial-Area-In-Bahadurgarh.php
Call now 8355963936

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
15:51 [UPDATED]: Myanmar's Military Junta Sentences American Journalist To Eleven Years In Prison (8)
12:01 Hong Kong Government Now Directly Censoring Films In Hopes Of Shutting Down Protest-Related Documentaries (21)
10:50 Fifth Circuit Appeals Court Strips Immunity For Officers Who Arrested A Journalist For Asking Questions (16)
10:44 Why Falsely Claiming It's Illegal To Shout Fire In A Crowded Theater Distorts Any Conversation About Online Speech (85)
05:36 Massachusetts College Decides Criticizing The Chinese Government Is Hate Speech, Suspends Conservative Student Group (144)
16:07 Court Says City Of Baltimore's 'Heckler's Veto' Of An Anti-Catholic Rally Violates The First Amendment (28)
12:19 Chicago Court Gets Its Prior Restraint On, Tells Police Union Head To STFU About City's Vaccine Mandate (385)
11:03 LinkedIn (Mostly) Exits China, Citing Escalating Demands For Censorship (24)
12:10 Court Tells Arkansas Troopers That Muting Anti-Cop Terms On Its Facebook Page Violates The 1st Amendment (37)
13:43 Right-Wing Commentator Dan Bongino Runs Into Florida Anti-SLAPP Law, Now Owes Daily Beast $32,000 In Legal Fees (14)
20:41 North Carolina Sued By Flying Dog Brewery Over Regulatory Body Refusing To Allow Sales Due To 'Offensive' Label (19)
09:59 Now Josh Hawley Is Threatening Google Over 1st Amendment Protected Expression (44)
12:08 PETA Sues NIH And HHS Directors For Blocking Comments With 'PETA' And '#StopAnimalTesting' (59)
10:57 Appeals Court Says The First Amendment Protects Minnesota Woman's Right To Be Super-Shitty About Nearby Islamic School (68)
12:00 Elizabeth Warren Threatens Amazon For Selling Books Containing Misinformation; Perhaps Forgetting The 1st Amendment (49)
09:26 8th Circuit's Bizarre Ruling In Devin Nunes' SLAPP Suit Against Reporter Ryan Lizza (13)
10:43 Satire Site Gets Ridiculous Threat Letter From Baseball Team; cc's Barbra Streisand In Its Response (20)
12:12 Commentator Insists That Fact Checking Is An Attack On Free Speech (163)
13:34 Court: Just Because An Anonymous Yelp Reviewer Is Mean, Doesn't Mean You Get To Unmask The Reviewer (26)
12:06 Computer Repair Shop Owner Has To Pay Twitter's Legal Fees Over Bogus SLAPP Suit Regarding Hunter Biden's Laptop (108)
13:36 Report Shows DOJ Engaged In Selective Prosecution To Maximize Punishment For 'Black Lives Matter' Protesters (22)
16:02 Appeals Court Shuts Down Kansas' 30-Year-Old Ag Gag Law (23)
13:39 Ninth Circuit Affirms MSNBC's Anti-SLAPP Motion Against OAN Network's Bullshit Defamation Lawsuit (102)
10:51 Appeals Court Says Iowa's Ag-Gag Law Is About 50 Percent Constitutional (15)
13:45 Nassau County Executive Vetoes Bill That Would Punish People For Making Cops Feel Bad (15)
12:24 Shiva Ayyadurai Drops His Potentially Interesting Lawsuit About Massachusetts Officials Complaining To Twitter About Tweets (33)
12:03 President Of France Sues Citizen Over Billboard Comparing Macron To Hitler (20)
10:44 Top German Court Says Facebook Must Inform Users About Deleting Their Posts Or Suspending Their Account, Explain Why, And Allow Them To Respond (17)
10:44 Superior Court Dumps BS Charges Brought Against New Jersey Homeowner For Her 'Fuck Biden' Signs (20)
03:27 Appeals Court Denies Immunity To University Officials Who Apparently Banned A Christian Student Group Just Because They Didn't Like It (33)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it