The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) has revealed that the Trump administration has not yet decided exactly what sort of ban it wants to impose on Tencent-operated messaging service WeChat, but that users of the service won’t be subject to any penalties.
The Trump administration announced plans for a WeChat ban on August 6th 2020 in an Executive Order that said a ban is needed on grounds of a national emergency and because WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users”. The Executive Order said WeChat therefore “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” The administration also dislikes the idea that WeChat can be used to track Chinese citizens visiting the USA. The
The executive order announcing the ban prevented “transactions” with WeChat but didn’t explain them and gave the US Secretary of Commerce 45 days to define what that term means.
That deadline expires on September 20th.
At the time of writing, late on September 17th in the USA, the definition has not arrived.
Now a September 16th court filing made by the DoJ in a case brought by the U.S. Wechat Users Alliance, a group that just likes using WeChat to stay in touch with people and want to keep doing so, reveals that a definition has not been made but does explain what it won’t cover.
The filing [PDF], signed by Serena M. Orloff of the DoJ, states: “the Secretary of Commerce has not yet reached a final decision on the specific transactions that will be prohibited under Executive Order 13943.”
The letter continues by saying “While the Department of Commerce continues to review a range of transactions, including those that could directly or indirectly impact use of the WeChat app, we can provide assurances that the Secretary 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, or otherwise define the relevant transactions in such a way that would impose criminal or civil liability on such users.”
Which means folks who just like using WeChat can keep doing so. Except that the letter explains that when the administration gets around to defining “transaction” it could still shut down WeChat.
“In other words, while use of the app for such communications could be directly or indirectly impaired through measures targeted at other transactions, use and downloading of the app for this limited purpose will not be a defined transaction, and such users will not be targeted or subject to penalties.” Which leaves users of WeChat three days to keep chatting, pending whatever the administration decides needs banning. ®