U.S. government says WeChat ban won’t target its users

The WeChat app on an iPad screen.
The WeChat app on an iPad screen. The Trump administration has clarified that an executive order banning the app won’t be enforced against individuals who use it for personal communications.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

A looming U.S. ban on the Chinese social media app WeChat won’t target people who use it to communicate, according to a government court filing Wednesday.

President Trump issued orders on Aug. 6 that targeted WeChat and TikTok as national security threats and imposed a Sept. 20 deadline for the Commerce Department to draft measures for blocking “transactions” with the Chinese owners of the apps.

The nonprofit U.S. WeChat Users Alliance and several people who say they rely on the app for doing their jobs, worshiping and staying in touch with relatives in China sued to stop the ban in federal court in California. The lawsuit says the ban violates its U.S. users’ freedom of speech, free exercise of religion and other constitutional rights.


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

WeChat users in the U.S. depend on the app to talk to friends, family and colleagues in China, where the messaging, payment and social media app is widely used. It has several million users in the United States.

The Justice Department said in Wednesday’s 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 said such users would not be exposed to “criminal or civil liability.”

The filing said that using and downloading the app to communicate won’t be a banned transaction, although messaging on the app could be “directly or indirectly impaired” by the ban.

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

The lead lawyer for the WeChat users, Michael Bien, said the plaintiffs will file a response Wednesday.