Three users of Chinese social media platform WeChat filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court claiming that Donald Trump’s decision to ban US companies from working with social media companies in China violated international treaties and violated their free speech rights.
Trump’s ban on US companies working with Chinese internet firms like Tencent Holdings Ltd and Baidu Inc emerged on June 5, when the President told American businesses to stop working with China’s internet giants. Trump said in the order that Trump had agreed to “enhance a process to determine whether bids for federal contracts or technology transfers will benefit China.” The president also said the ban would only be lifted “when China reforms its laws and policies on intellectual property, technology transfer, and cyber intrusions and theft.”
This ban was in response to remarks Trump made in May, when he said there were “serious concerns about China’s use of intellectual property for its own purposes” and threatened tariffs on Chinese goods.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Washington, calls Trump’s ban an unconstitutional conspiracy against the American people. The lawsuit from Alex Feng, a scientist and writer from New York City, Henrik Huijer, an entrepreneur from Savannah, Georgia, and Stephen Santostefano, a Brooklyn-based artist, claims that the ban is based on domestic grievances with Chinese tech firms and has nothing to do with China’s alleged trade policies that violate international treaties.
Both Feng and Huijer run a digital content platform for the healthcare industry called HealthHQ, which is licensed by the US government to provide IT and analytical services to doctors and hospitals in the US. Feng and Huijer both use WeChat to share their expertise with doctors and hospitals in the US. Feng says he isn’t able to do his job since Trump’s ban was announced.
“We want to be able to do work that benefits US patients,” Feng told TechCrunch. “I have no desire to be aligned with a Chinese firm that is probably subject to Chinese espionage or trade secrets.”
Bloomberg reported last month that Trump’s Treasury Department and the US Department of Justice are investigating specific firms that work with Chinese internet companies. Bloomberg reported that the investigation is ongoing and is not a visa ban that’s currently being pursued by the White House. According to Bloomberg, the National Security Council, and other agencies responsible for enforcing US sanctions on China are also involved in the investigation.
The social media companies can still work with the US government and the companies’ foreign subsidiaries in China to provide government services. But foreign subsidiaries of foreign social media firms are not allowed to provide information or give information back to their parent companies about Americans on their platforms, according to Bloomberg.
Feng said he was also worried about what other companies would do next.
“My concern is that all foreign social media firms are strong competitors,” Feng said. “And China is one of the world’s largest consumer markets, and companies will not hesitate to compete on their perceived market positions.”