The Trump administration’s efforts to ban WeChat are headed toward another roadblock.
In a hearing Thursday, US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said she was unlikely to grant the US Department of Justice’s request for a stay of her September ruling blocking the ban while it continues to litigate the case, Bloomberg reported.
If Beeler declines to grant the government’s request, the Trump administration would be unable to implement the ban while it appeals her September order. DOJ lawyers have also asked the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn Beeler’s order.
WeChat, Tencent, and the DOJ did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
The lawsuit was originally brought by WeChat users in August, who argued the proposed ban “eviscerates an irreplaceable cultural bridge” and is “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
Beeler said that new evidence presented by DOJ lawyers to back up its claims of national security concerns surrounding the app didn’t convince her that the government’s concerns outweighed the free speech rights of the millions of Chinese-speaking Americans who rely on the app, according to Bloomberg.
Trump has taken aim at WeChat, a mobile app owned by Chinese-based internet giant Tencent that includes messaging, social media, payment, and other features and is used widely by Chinese Americans, claiming that it could allow Beijing to spy on American users.
Trump issued two executive orders earlier this summer seeking to ban WeChat and TikTok, a viral video app owned by Chinese-based ByteDance, citing national security concerns, and has tried to force the sale of TikTok to US firms. Both orders immediately ran into multiple legal and political hurdles, with courts and legal experts raising concerns that the bans could amount to unconstitutional government prohibitions on free speech.
DOJ lawyer Serena Orloff attempted to persuade Beeler on the national security issue, claiming the amount of data WeChat, and by extension, Beijing can collect on users “generates a digital facsimile of a person’s life,” according to Bloomberg.
But Beeler said she wasn’t inclined to grant a stay even in light of the DOJ’s additional evidence, Bloomberg reported.
There has so far been little evidence to suggest Beijing is actively using either WeChat or TikTok to spy on American users as the Trump administration has claimed. Experts who examined TikTok’s code and policies said the app collects user data in a similar way to Facebook and other popular social apps.