Trump administration faces lawsuit over WeChat ban

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • A group is suing the Trump administration, seeking to overturn an executive order banning WeChat.
  • Five Chinese-American lawyers founded the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance in the wake of the ban.
  • They say WeChat is fundamental to some users, and that the ban is unlawful.

A group of Chinese-American lawyers plans to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to overturn a recent executive order targeting WeChat.

As Nikkei Asian Review reports:

A group of WeChat users in the U.S. is launching a legal challenge to President Donald Trump's ban on the popular Chinese messaging app, arguing that the move violates their constitutional rights.

President Trump signed two executive orders targeting WeChat and TikTok earlier this month. The U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, founded by five Chinese-American lawyers in wake of the orders, will file a lawsuit today in the District Court for Northern California, seeking to overturn the ban.

Lead lawyer Michael Bien stated:

"The Trump ban ... is going to stop (U.S. WeChat users') use of something that is so fundamental in their lives"

The group does not have a huge U.S. user base, only clocking around 19 million downloads. However, the group will argue that the app serves as a primary method to "communicate, organize social groups, run businesses and engage in political activities", as such the ban violates the Constitution by censoring "such a fundamental part of communication", they also pointed out that this affects a minority group:

"especially when it affects an insular group that has historically been a minority that's been subject to discrimination in the U.S., by law or by practice"

The group also notes the fact that the order is very ambiguous:

Another argument against the ban is that it is having a "chilling effect" -- a legal term referring to the threat of legal sanctions used to discourage people from exercising their natural and legal rights.The executive order prohibits any transaction with Tencent that relates to WeChat, but does not define what constitutes a "transaction.""One of the problems with the executive order that was issued on Aug. 6 is that no one knows what it means, which has a chilling effect on users," Bien said. "This executive order has criminal sanctions as possible outcomes, and no one knows what's allowed. ... The vagueness in the law is also a constitutional violation."

As with the ban on TikTok, it will be up to the U.S. government to define what exactly constitutes a "transaction" between TikTok, WeChat, and any U.S. citizen or company. Until then, the true ramifications of the orders remain very unclear.

The group says that a lawsuit "seemed like a longshot at first", but is now more optimistic following extensive research into the case.

Stephen Warwick