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WeChat: Judge delays US restrictions on Chinese app

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judge has approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay US government restrictions against the app
judge has approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay US government restrictions against the app   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
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A judge has delayed US government restrictions against the Chinese app WeChat, which was targeted by Donald Trump amid rising tensions between the US and China.

The magistrate in California approved a request from a group of WeChat users to delay incoming federal government restrictions, saying the government’s actions would affect users’ First Amendment rights on free speech.

WeChat, a popular messaging-focused app which is used by many Chinese-speaking Americans, is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent. It is being targeted by the US government along with another Chinese-owned app TikTok, for national security and data privacy concerns.

The Trump administration claims data of US users of the apps could be shared with the Chinese government.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump said he supported a proposed deal that would have TikTok partner with Oracle and WalMart to form a US company.

There is still a chance that TikTok could be banned in the US if the deal isn't completed, under restrictions put in place by the Commerce Department.

However, a restriction to bar TikTok from app stores in the US, similar to what WeChat faced, was pushed back a week after Trump backed the latest TikTok deal.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the government will ensure that under the TikTok-Oracle-WalMart deal, no American's data would end up in the possession of the Chinese government.

In the WeChat case, the users argued that the moves targeting the all-in-one app with instant-messaging, social media and other communication tools would restrict free speech.

The US government earlier argued that it would not be restricting free speech because WeChat users still “are free to speak on alternative platforms that do not pose a national security threat.”

But California magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government's actions would affect users’ First Amendment rights, as an effective ban on the app would remove their platform for communication.

The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the injunction.

The dispute over WeChat and TikTok is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to counter the influence of China.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.