WeChat may be hit with US ban after Justice Department request

A federal judge earlier this week temporarily blocked a Trump administration order to bar downloads of the app.

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The Justice Department is asking a federal judge in San Francisco to allow the government to immediately bar downloads of WeChat in the US, saying the Chinese-owned messaging is a threat to national security. The request from the DOJ comes after US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler on Sunday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order requiring Apple and Google to remove WeChat from their app stores.

In a filing on Thursday, the Justice Department asked Beeler to put a stay on her preliminary injunction. If approved, it would essentially allow the US to ban WeChat while the case makes it way through court. The injunction issued on Sunday blocked a Commerce Department order that would have barred downloads of WeChat and put in place other restrictions, potentially making the app unusable in the US.

Beeler's earlier ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed in August by a group of WeChat users who aren't affiliated with the company behind the app and argued that President Donald Trump's ban is unconstitutional. WeChat, which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, combines messaging, social media and mobile payment functions. An attorney representing the WeChat user group said it plans to oppose the government's call for a stay. 

"Judge Beeler's preliminary injunction found substantial Constitutional issues and irreparable harm to WeChat users in the United States if the ban was allowed to be implemented while the important First Amendment rights implicated by the ban are fully litigated in her court," Michael Bien, counsel for US WeChat Users Alliance and other plaintiffs, said in a statement Friday. "The preliminary injunction must stay in place to preserve the rights of WeChat users, especially the millions who depend on it for communications in Chinese."

Trump issued sweeping bans on Aug. 6 against WeChat and fellow Chinese tech app TikTok , citing concerns that data that the apps collect "vast swaths of information" from their US users. There is also concern that Chinese companies may be unable to reject requests from China's ruling Communist Party to access that data.

The Justice Department asked for a ruling from Beeler no later than Oct. 1 on its request.

Tencent didn't respond to a request for comment.