WeChat Wins Injunction Against Trump Ban of Its App

While TikTok might have, at minimum, won a week delay in the ban, WeChat is suing the administration to block the ban. A judge has agreed.

It’s been a story that is practically updating every hour at this point. Just two days ago, Trump rejected the TikTok Oracle deal. The move almost seemed to practically seal the fate of TikTok. Barring any last minute dramatics, it was going to be banned as of this past Sunday. Well, as if following by a stereotypically American playbook, there was last minute dramatics. TikTok managed to hammer out a deal in about 48 hours with Oracle (part of the previously rejected deal) and Walmart (part of the already rejected Microsoft partnership to buy TikTok). The deal was hastily brought to the president and managed to get a preliminary approval.

While the flurry of news has been quite intense, if we back up a little bit, you might have caught the fact that one of our reports mentions the banning of WeChat. This is another app that the Trump administration is targeting. As you might have noted, WeChat isn’t part of any of these deals we’ve been reporting on all this time. The question is, what are they doing? Well, as it turns out, they are in the process of suing the impeached president over the ban.

The arguments are likely to be familiar. As we reported about the reaction of analysts, one of them (Mike Masnick of Techdirt) commented that everything about this ban is unconstitutional. More specifically, it violates the right to free speech. As we noted, this is very likely true, but contains the caveat of how the Trump administration has been packing the court system with judges who support his policies. Still, it seems that WeChat is intending on following this rout anyway to see if they can legally challenge these laws in spite of the possible challenges of biased judges.

For now, WeChat has actually made inroads and convinced a judge to block the order banning the app in the US for the time being. From BBC:

A judge has blocked a US government attempt to ban the Chinese messaging and payments app, WeChat.

US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the ban raised serious questions related to the constitution’s first amendment, guaranteeing free speech.

The US Justice Department argued that blocking the executive order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security”.

However Judge Beeler, sitting in San Francisco, noted that “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China (regarding technology and mobile technology) is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest”.

The article doesn’t mention this being an injunction, but other sources say it is technically a temporary injunction. The CBC is one such source.

If you recall, TikTok has already filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration last month. This lawsuit filed by WeChat actually changes things somewhat for all involved here. Often, we see fights between companies and the government in the past get resolved outside of the courts. Sometimes, analysts wonder where a lawsuit might have headed if the companies followed through with legal action instead. In this case, we might actually get the luxury of seeing where the lawsuit might have headed thanks to the WeChat lawsuit. WeChat is part of this particular ban and is likely fighting the ban on similar grounds TikTok would have fought it on.

Not only does the WeChat lawsuit offer the possibility of removing some question marks about this case, it also offers a fallback plan for TikTok as well. Let’s say the WeChat lawsuit is successful: that represents a powerful bargaining chip for TikTok. TikTok could theoretically say that if Trump decides to suddenly cancel the deal on a whim, they can tell the administration to stuff the ban because they know that they can go to the courts and win. Alternatively, it could also deter Trump from going back on his word because he would then know that the ban is unconstitutional.

Now, on the flip side, what would happen if WeChat loses its court case in the long run. That would certainly set an awful precedent and would represent a major win for the Trump administration. It would further cement his reputation for simply being above the law and that he can legally ignore the constitution and ban whatever he darn well feels like on a whim. Just scream “national security” and you get whatever you want. This would certainly act as a deterrent from other companies from operating in the country because they would then know for sure that their longevity will always be tenuous. This doesn’t even touch on the can of worms of how much such an outcome would begin to tear the Internet apart.

At any rate, this temporary injunction does represent a move that changes the playing board in this case. Perhaps the only player involved here that doesn’t need to do much at this stage is China. The WeChat court case is moving ahead and making inroads. Meanwhile, the TikTok Oracle Walmart deal is working its way through the system. At this point, the only thing China needs to do is examine the TikTok Oracle Walmart deal. Otherwise, they can simply wait in the wings while every other player winds up duking it out for the time being.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation in this fast developing story.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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