U.S. Justice Department seeks to delay appeals on WeChat, TikTok restrictions

Illustration picture of U.S. flag with WeChat and TikTok

David ShepardsonThu, 11 February 2021, 8:36 pm

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal appeals court to pause a government appeal of a lower court ruling blocking restrictions that the Trump administration had imposed on Tencent’s messaging app WeChat.

The government filed similar requests on Wednesday asking two federal appeals courts to hold off on appeals seeking to overturn rulings that had barred government restrictions on the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok.

The administration of former President Donald Trump had attempted to block new users from downloading the apps and ban other technical transactions that TikTok and WeChat both said would effectively the apps’ use in the United States.

Three federal judges in separate rulings blocked the U.S. Commerce Department orders issued in August that sought to prevent new TikTok and WeChat downloads and bar other transactions.

The Justice Department said on Thursday it “plans to conduct an evaluation of the underlying record justifying those prohibitions” to determine whether they are warranted by the national security threat Trump described.

WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

A group of WeChat users sued to block the ban in August, which it said would have resulted in an “unprecedented shutdown of a major platform for communications relied on by millions of people in the United States.”

Late Wednesday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court Of Appeals agreed to cancel oral arguments previously set for Thursday in one of the government’s TikTok appeals.

Reuters on Wednesday, citing two people briefed on the matter, reported that the plan unveiled in September for U.S. investors, including Oracle Corp and Walmart Inc, to buy a majority stake in TikTok’s American operations could face months of additional reviews, as the new Biden administration conducts a wide-ranging review of China policy.

The Trump administration had contended that WeChat and TikTok pose national security concerns as the personal data of U.S. users could be obtained by China’s government. TikTok, which has over 100 million users in the United States, has denied the allegation as has WeChat.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)