“As the Biden Administration has taken office, the Department of Commerce has begun a review of certain recently issued agency actions, including the Secretary’s prohibitions regarding the WeChat mobile application at issue in this appeal,” the Justice Department said in a filing Thursday with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“In relation to those prohibitions, the Department plans to conduct an evaluation of the underlying record justifying those prohibitions. The government will then be better positioned to determine whether the national security threat described in the President’s August 6, 2020 Executive Order, and the regulatory purpose of protecting the security of Americans and their data, continue to warrant the identified Prohibitions,” the filing said.
The filing added that the Biden administration “remains committed to a robust defense of national security as well as ensuring the viability of our economy and preserving individual rights and data privacy.”
The Biden administration used similar language in a request it filed Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking for a delay in proceedings involving Trump’s proposed TikTok ban.
Trump tried to prohibit both apps last fall, calling them national security threats because they collected “vast swaths” of data on Americans and offered the Chinese Communist Party avenues for censoring or distorting information.
A federal magistrate in San Francisco temporarily halted Trump’s proposed WeChat ban in September over First Amendment concerns, in response to a lawsuit filed by WeChat users. A federal court in Washington, D.C. later issued a preliminary injunction blocking the TikTok ban. The Trump administration appealed both of those rulings.
The moves come as some Republicans express early concerns about the Biden administration’s plans for China policy. Conservatives, and also many Democrats in Congress, want the new administration to maintain a hard line on China and its tech companies.
In a Feb. 4 tweet, Cruz said he would lift the hold “when the Biden admin commits to keep the massive Chinese Communist Party spy operation Huawei on the Entity List.” Senator Cruz’s office didn’t immediately provide comment on Thursday.
Michael Bien, a lawyer for the WeChat users who filed the lawsuit opposing the Trump ban, called the Biden administration’s pause a positive development. The proposed ban was “just one more extreme and unconstitutional action by the Trump administration” that would harm “millions and millions of people who depend on WeChat every day,” he said.
Some other WeChat users in the United States have said they support the ban proposal, complaining that the app, owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, has censored them and blocked them from using their accounts after they’ve posted material critical of Chinese authorities.