The Strange Case of the WeChat Lawsuit

October 28, 2021 Updated: October 28, 2021

News Analysis

WeChat “allow[s] the Chinese Communist party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information” said then-President Donald Trump, explaining why he signed an executive order, banning the Chinese app.

WeChat (微信; Wēixìn), developed in 2011 by Tencent, is a multi-purpose social media app that has instant messaging, ride hailing, and mobile payment functions. With more than 1 billion monthly active users, it is arguably the largest app in the world. WeChat can do many things, including photo and location sharing, hold-to-talk voice messaging, video conferencing, video games, group chat meetings.

Under China’s Cybersecurity Law, Beijing has the right to demand, from any person or entity in China, any and all information that the regime feels has implications for Chinese security. Additionally, authorities can seize this data or information without notifying the user. A separate law, China’s National Intelligence Law, obligates Chinese and, in some cases, foreign citizens, entities, companies, or organizations in China to support the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in intelligence-gathering.

All activity and users on WeChat are tracked by the CCP, as part of its massive surveillance campaign against the Chinese population, as well as foreign and Chinese users abroad. This includes searching images, reading chats, listening to phone conversations, and censoring social media posts. Politically sensitive and forbidden content is instantly removed, and violators may be jailed or have their social credit score downgraded. Data transmitted by accounts registered outside of China is closely monitored and analyzed. This data is then used to train the CCP’s AI systems.

In August 2020, Trump issued an Executive Order banning all transactions with WeChat in the United States. In the same month, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance (USWUA) was founded, and it initiated a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

According to the USWUA website, which is written in both English and Chinese, the group’s initiators are all ethnic Chinese lawyers, practicing in the United States. The three primary initiators are also group trustees: chairwoman Ying Cao, trustee Shengyang Wu, and trustee Gang Yuan.

The media called the case “U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump,” but this is not exactly accurate. The case was against the Trump administration, on the grounds of First Amendment freedom of speech rights, as well as the hardship of Chinese immigrant families, who use WeChat to communicate with their relatives back in China.

In September 2020, Trump’s order was blocked by a preliminary injunction issued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Biden administration lifted the ban in June this year. Although the ban against WeChat was cancelled, President Joe Biden also signed the “Executive Order Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries,” which specifically names China as a threat to data privacy and national security.

On their website, the USWUA claims that it won “final victory.” But in reality, there is no indication that Biden’s actions were related to the lawsuit. And it was the Biden administration, not the courts, that revoked Trump’s Executive Order.

The group posted, in English and Chinese, details about the case and how it has morphed into U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Biden, in his capacity as president of the United States, and Gina Raimondo, in her capacity as secretary of commerce, and suing for $900,000 in attorney’s fees. On the group’s website, there is a document called “US WeChat User Alliance v. Biden, No. 3:20-cv-05910-LB (N.D. Cal.),” which, at a glance, seems to be a settlement agreement. However, the document is incomplete and there are no signatures or date. So it is unclear if it is a proposal, or if a settlement was actually reached, or if money was paid.

According to the website Court Listener, the District Court N.D. California case “No. 3:20-cv-05910-LB (N.D. Cal.)” is for U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump (3:20-cv-05910), not U.S. WeChat User Alliance v. Biden, and does not mention $900,000 in compensation.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."