A group of WeChat users with no affiliation to the app’s owner, Tencent, are suing the Trump Administration over his executive order to ban the Chinese owned instant messaging service by September.
The main group behind the lawsuit is the US WeChat Users Alliance as well as a small business and some other plaintiffs, reports The Wall Street Journal. They claim that banning the app is unconstitutional because it violates WeChat users’ rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection under law.
Importantly, the lawsuit states, “In issuing the Executive Order, the president acted beyond his authority provided by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which precludes the President from ‘directly or indirectly’ regulating personal communications and the international exchange of information”.
It also notes that the WeChat ban directly and unfairly targets Chinese Americans who rely on the app to communicate with their family in China, where the app is used by billions. “Approximately 19 million users rely on the app in the United States, and it is the primary app Chinese-speakers in the U.S. use to participate in social life by connecting with loved ones, sharing special moments, arguing ideas, receiving up-to-the-minute news, and participating in political discussions and advocacy,” states the lawsuit, acknowledging the huge importance WeChat holds for both personal and societal purposes.
As a so-called ‘super app,’ WeChat is integral to the lives of many Americans. Users rely on the app for instant messaging, video conferencing, upload documents, and make payments. According to the lawsuit, “It has become essential to the conduct of daily life for its users, many of whom regularly spend hours each day on the app”.
The lawsuit also highlights the vagueness of the executive order, which sparked confusion among many of the country’s leading companies who organized a call with The White House to discuss the potential detrimental effects of a WeChat ban on their business. The companies, including Apple, Disney, Ford, Walmart, and Intel, had issues with the broad language used in the executive order, which was subject to the Commerce Department.
The plaintiffs hope to clear up any confusion surrounding which transactions with WeChat would be banned. According to the WSJ, The Commerce Department said it is weighing which transactions must be barred and “is considering relevant information from all sources, including the intelligence community, law enforcement, publicly available information, and welcomes input from private industry and other interested parties in making those determinations.”
The WeChat ban coincides with President Trump’s decision to ban TikTok in The United States due to national security concerns, despite both Tencent and ByteDance (TikTok’s owner) denying any spying or sharing of data with the Chinese government.
Since, there have been talks between ByteDance and three major US firms including Microsoft, Twitter, and Oracle over potential purchases of the short-form video app. TikTok has also confirmed it will be suing the Trump Administration over the executive ban.