Upcoming WeChat ‘ban’ in US will not target its users

NEW YORK (AP) — A looming United States (US) ban on the Chinese app WeChat will not target people who use the app to communicate, according to a government court filing
on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump issued orders on August 6 that targetted WeChat and TikTok as purported national-security threats and imposed a September 20 deadline for the Commerce Department to draft specific measures for blocking “transactions” with the Chinese owners of the apps.

The non-profit US WeChat Users Alliance and several people who said they rely on the app for work and staying in touch with relatives in China sued to stop the ban in federal court in California. The suit said the ban violates its US users’ freedom of speech and other constitutional rights.

The WeChat users, who said they are not affiliated with WeChat or its parent company, Tencent, are seeking an injunction to against the order, and a hearing is scheduled today.

WeChat users in the US depend on the app to talk to friends, family and colleagues in China, where the messaging, payments and social media app is widely used. It has several million users in the US.

The Justice Department said in the Wednesday filing that the Commerce Department “does not intend to take actions that would target persons or groups whose only connection with WeChat is their use or downloading of the app to convey personal or business information
between users”.

It added that such users would not be exposed to “criminal or civil liability”. The government filing said that using and downloading the app to communicate will not be a banned transaction, although messaging on the app could be “directly or indirectly impaired” by the ban.

The Justice Department’s filing said that these “assurances largely address” concerns raised by the plaintiffs who called for an injunction.

The lead lawyer for the WeChat users, Michael Bien, said in an interview that the plaintiffs will be filing a response.

TikTok and WeChat applications on a smartphone screen. PHOTO: AP