WeChat users will not face civil or criminal penalties if the United States bans the Chinese chat app, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
In August, President Donald Trump unveiled a proposal to ban US transactions with Tencent, owner of the popular Chinese app. The Americans call WeChat and TikTok “significant threats” to national security. America has been making efforts to clean untrusted Chinese apps from American digital networks for some time now.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will publish regulations before Sunday clarifying which WeChat transactions will be banned.
WeChat users have filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to thwart Trump’s measures. They want WeChat to remain accessible to US individuals and companies. A hearing on this case will take place on Thursday.
The Justice Department responded on Wednesday that Ross does not intend to target individuals or groups using WeChat to transfer personal or business information, saying they should not fear criminal or civil penalties.
It was admitted, however, that the use of the app could be directly or indirectly impeded by the measures.
The WeChat users who took the case said the injunction could potentially prevent millions of WeChat users in the United States from contacting other Chinese speakers.
WeChat has been downloaded 19 million times in the United States, according to analysts at Sensor Tower, but in China the app is used by hundreds of millions of people.
Trump’s order states that WeChat “automatically stores vast amounts of information from its users,” threatening “the Chinese Communist Party with access to Americans’ personal information.”