The Donald Trump administration in the US has hit a minor set back in its execution of the blanket ban it issued for the lesser-known Chinese multipurpose app WeChat.
A few of the U.S.-based WeChat users are petitioning against the American President to block the executive order released along with one for TikTok that they say would effectively restrict their access in the U.S. to the hugely popular Chinese messaging app.
The complaint has been filed by the nonprofit U.S. WeChat Users Alliance and several people who say they rely on the app for work, worship and staying in touch with relatives in China. The plaintiffs said they are not affiliated with WeChat, nor its parent company, Tencent Holdings.
In the lawsuit, the group asked a federal court judge to stop Trump’s executive order from being enforced, claiming it would violate its U.S. users’ freedom of speech, free exercise of religion and other constitutional rights.
President Trump has earlier ordered bans on transactions with the Chinese owners of WeChat and another popular consumer app, TikTok, saying they are a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy and the economy.
The two individual executive orders are expected to take effect Sept. 20, or 45 days from when they were issued. The orders call on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is also named as a defendant in the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance lawsuit, to define the banned dealings by that time.
WeChat, which has more than 1 billion users, is less well-known than TikTok to Americans without a connection to China.
Mobile research firm Sensor Tower estimates about 19 million U.S. downloads of the app. But it is a crucial infrastructure for Chinese students and residents in the U.S. to connect with friends and family in China and for anyone who does business with China.
Within China, WeChat is censored and expected to adhere to content restrictions set by authorities. The Citizen Lab internet watchdog group in Toronto have said WeChat monitors files and images shared abroad to aid its censorship in China.
Even so, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance complaint argued that losing access to the app would harm millions of people in the U.S. who rely on it, noting it is the only app with an interface designed for Chinese speakers.
“Since the executive order, numerous users, including plaintiffs, have scrambled to seek alternatives without success. They are now afraid that by merely communicating with their families, they may violate the law and face sanctions,” according to the complaint.