FILE PHOTO: The messenger app WeChat is seen among U.S. flags in this illustration picture taken Aug. 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

US judge halts Commerce Department order

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge early Sunday blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”

Her 22-page order added the prohibitions “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security, especially given the lack of substitute channels for communication.”

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department had issued a order citing national security grounds to block the app from U.S. app stores owned by Tencent Holding’s and the Justice Department had urged Beeler not to block the order.

Tencent and the Justice Department did not immediately comment.

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