This past Friday, September 18, 2020, the Trump administration released its plan to ban Chinese-owned WeChat and TikTok from U.S. mobile app stores. The Executive Order (EO) allegedly responds to a risk that the Chinese government has access to millions of American users’ personal data through the use of these apps.
TikTok-loving Gen-Z’ers are only a portion of interested parties who will be affected by these bans. As of this morning, Monday, September 21, 2020, U.S. companies were to be prohibited from processing transactions or transferring funds for WeChat. The EO also prohibits companies from offering a variety of internet hosting services for the app, or using the app’s code in other U.S. software or services. In other words, the Trump administration is not taking the Chinese tech giant down directly, but rather, it is cutting WeChat off at its base—a base consisting of U.S. companies.
The Trump administration gave TikTok a more distant November 12 deadline to assure the administration the app does not pose a U.S. national security threat. TikTok’s November 12th deadline subverts arguments that the administration’s true intention is to silence a large social media platform prior to the November 3rd general election.
For a more detailed account of the Executive Order, see https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/business/trump-tik-tok-wechat-ban.html
Friday’s decision demonstrates the give and take of the law and justice: Opposition argues this prohibitory measure infringes on Americans’ First Amendment Free Speech rights; those in favor argue this is a necessary executive step in ensuring Americans’ data privacy protection. Both principles are firmly rooted in the U.S. Constitution, and neither associates itself with one particular political party.
This is precisely the issue U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in Northern California addressed when she granted WeChat users’ request for a preliminary injunction on Saturday. In finding a likelihood WeChat users will succeed on the merits, Judge Beeler halted the Trump Administration’s ability to enforce the EO until its constitutionality under the First Amendment is fully litigated. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will appeal the order.
Although this preliminary injunction grants WeChat users additional time with the application, the Executive Order is merely held on pause. We encourage U.S. companies yearning for clarity on the potential impact of this EO, especially those that utilize WeChat to conduct business with partners abroad, to reach out to Dickinson Law’s Cybersecurity, Data Breach, and Privacy Law practice group.