New Chinese App Suit Raises Anonymous Plaintiffs Issue

Like anything else, lawsuits have rules. One rule is that both the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) must be disclosed so the court knows who is suing who and for what reason. Now a group of anonymous Californian plaintiffs suing the owner of a Chinese mobile app over alleged censorship and surveillance are clashing with defense lawyers about whether they need to identify themselves to the defense team.

Users of the WeChat app filed a lawsuit against Chinese tech giant Tencent in state court in January, alleging that the company’s practices violate their free-speech and privacy rights.

The plaintiffs are a mix of U.S. and Chinese citizens residing in California, who filed the suit anonymously because they fear Chinese authorities will seek to punish them or their family members in China, according to their lawyer, Times Wang of North River Law in D.C. If Tencent learns their identities, Chinese authorities could easily pressure the company to turn over the information, Wang said in an interview.

Lawyers for Tencent at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in San Francisco dispute this, and argue that they can’t prepare a defense without knowing who is suing the company. The case, and the clash over anonymity, are forcing the U.S. legal system to try to decipher China’s often opaque economy, where the ruling Communist Party has strong sway over corporate entities.

Signs of that power have been mounting of late, from the regulatory assault on tech entrepreneur Jack Ma to bring his empire under more state control to the Communist Party’s push to establish more party cells within companies.

“Obedience to the party is necessary for survival,” Wang said. “When the regime comes calling, what can you possibly do to resist?”

In their lawsuit in California, the six anonymous plaintiffs allege that the censorship and surveillance have spilled into the United States via the app. A seventh plaintiff in the lawsuit is named: the nonprofit group Citizen Power Initiatives for China (CPIFC), based in D.C. and founded by the dissident Yang Jianli. The lawsuit says the plaintiffs are suing in California because Tencent’s U.S. subsidiary has its principal place of business in Palo Alto.

Will the plaintiffs stay anonymous in this one? We’ll have to see. But legal disputes just like his one are EVERYWHERE. So when those nasty things including contract issues, landlord/tenant matters, nuisance ADA claims and even collections impact YOU and YOUR business, call in the good guy business litigator, Dean Sperling, who will resolve YOUR matter with YOUR best interests in mind!

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