Recently introduced legislation would prohibit federal employees from using another popular app on government devices on the grounds that it is a national security risk.
The WeChat No More Act (S. 4452), introduced by Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), would prohibit federal officials, federal employees and Members of Congress from downloading the WeChat app on government devices, with limited exceptions, including intelligence or cybersecurity activities.
In a press release, Kennedy said that the WeChat app has direct connections to the Chinese Communist Party, “which routinely spies on American citizens and bullies American businesses.”
The press release also states that WeChat “spread pro-China misinformation with the goal of influencing the American public during the 2016 election” and that “the platform censors topics like the #MeToo movement and Chinese public health scandals.”
The legislation is part of a series of bills Kennedy is introducing aimed at protecting American security interests from China.
“Communist China’s ambition is to eclipse America’s economy and erase our freedoms, and it plays the long game. China’s government pressures U.S. businesses to read from its communist song sheet while planting its state-owned factories on American soil. Meanwhile, the CCP spies on our citizens and steals our innovation. It’s time to take specific, decisive steps to protect Americans and their businesses from the CCP’s attacks, and that’s what these bills do,” said Kennedy.
This is not the first legislation that would restrict federal employees’ usage of certain apps for security reasons. Legislation that would ban federal employees from using the popular video sharing app TikTok on government devices was previously introduced in both the House and Senate. Both bills have advanced in their respective legislative bodies.
President Trump has also taken aim at TikTok and WeChat, issuing executive orders that would ban the apps from operating in the United States if they are not sold by their Chinese-owned parent companies.
The WeChat app is owned by the Chinese tech firm Tencent and has over 1 billion users.
According to CNBC, the app began as a messaging service but has “transformed into an app where you can do everything from payments to hailing a ride, or even booking flights.”
According to a 2019 report from NPR, the WeChat app is just one that Chinese technology companies are using to collect data on foreign users.
According to the Citizen Lab, an Internet watchdog group at the University of Toronto, WeChat’s parent company Tencent created an extraordinarily advanced censorship algorithm to automatically identify combinations of keywords in messages and online articles that it then blocks. The censorship occurs whenever a Chinese-registered WeChat account receives or sends a message with flagged phrases.
The article went on to say that a Dutch security researcher found a database in China that stored almost 4 billion messages tagged with GPS locations, some of which had been sent from outside of China. The researcher said that “…the system resembles the global surveillance methods used by the U.S. National Security Agency.”
In drafting his executive order, President Trump accused WeChat of being a channel used by the Chinese Communist Party to obtain information on Americans and keep tabs on Chinese citizens abroad.
“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” the president wrote.