MPs, House of Commons Staff Warned Not to Use Chinese Messaging App WeChat Due to ‘Cybersecurity Risks’

Ottawa doesn’t want MPs and House of Commons staff to use the Chinese messaging app WeChat.

According to a new report from iPolitics, MPs and House of Commons staff are being warned against using Chinese messaging and e-payment app WeChat due to potential “cybersecurity risks.”

The House’s cybersecurity team sent an email to MPs, staff, and Commons’ administration with the subject line “IT Security Alert – Risks with the WeChat application,” warning employees not to use the Chinese messaging app.

“Please be advised that the messaging, social media and payment application WeChat poses potential cybersecurity risks to users,” says the email obtained by iPolitics.

“As such, the House of Commons strongly recommends that Members of Parliament and their staff refrain from using it for business—or otherwise sensitive—communications,” the email continues.

The email claims WeChat is a dangerous app due to the fact that the messages sent through the platform are unencrypted, meaning third parties may have back-door access to users’ data and messages, making them much more vulnerable to being intercepted by bad actors.

“Additionally, messages continue to reside on servers even after users have deleted them, with information pertaining to users’ locations saved as well,” reads the email. “These servers are located outside of Canada and so are not subject to Canadian privacy laws. Rigorous protections of user data cannot be assured.”

House of Commons spokesperson Kori Ghergari explained that the alert sent to MPs and staff was sent as a “preventative measure.”

“They were not in response to a breach, and there are no other reasons for which the alerts were issued,” said Ghergari. “While it may be used for personal purposes, WeChat has not been approved by the House of Commons for parliamentary communication. The alerts were sent to remind users to exercise caution in the digital domain.”

Concerns have been raised internationally, including Canada’s closest allies, about the threat posed by Chinese tech companies because of recently enacted Chinese intelligence laws. Laws passed in 2017 give the Chinese government powers to demand that businesses carry out loosely-defined intelligence activities on its behalf in the name of national security.

Tensions between Canada and China have escalated since December when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. She was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities, who want her extradited to face criminal charges for her company’s alleged attempts to circumvent U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.