The Justice Department said on Wednesday in a filing that users who use or download popular messaging app WeChat “to convey personal or business information” will not be subject to civil or criminal penalties under Donald Trump’s executive order.
On August 6, Donald Trump had signed an executive order to ban US transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of WeChat, in 45 days, because of national security and privacy concerns.
The attorneys from the Justice Department said in a filing that “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.”
In response, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance said “Having first failed to articulate any actual national security concerns, the administration’s latest ‘assurances’ that users can keep using WeChat, and exchange their personal and business information, only further illustrates the hollowness and pre-textual nature of the Defendants’ ‘national security rationales.’”
The U.S. WeChat User Alliance filed a motion for an injunction in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on August 21, saying that the ban of WeChat “will severely affect the lives and the work of millions of people in the U.S. They will have a difficult time talking to family relatives and friends back in China. Countless people or businesses who use WeChat to develop and contact customers will also suffer significant economic losses.”
WeChat reached around 764,000 downloads from across the U.S. App Store and Google Play in the first half of 2020, according to Sensor Tower data. The data also says “U.S. consumers spend the most on in-app purchases in WeChat outside of China, generating about $120,000 or nearly 6 percent of the app’s $2 million global gross revenue from IAP in 1H20.”
According to Reuters, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to release regulations by Sunday clarifying what WeChat transactions will be prohibited.