Canada bans WeChat, Kaspersky applications on government devices

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Monday banned Chinese messaging application WeChat and Russian antivirus program Kaspersky on government-issued mobile devices due to privacy and security risks, but said government information had not been compromised.

The ban was announced after an assessment by Canada’s chief information officer that Tencent-owned WeChat and applications made by Moscow-based Kaspersky “present an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” the Treasury Board of Canada, which oversees public administration, said in a statement.

China’s foreign ministry said the Canadian government had issued a ban on Chinese enterprises without any real evidence, under the guise of maintaining data security, which is a typical generalization of the concept of national security.

It said the ban abused national power and unreasonably suppresses the behavior of enterprises in specific countries.

“We hope that the Canadian side will discard ideological prejudices, abide by the principles of market economy and provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises,” said spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

Canada bans WeChat, Kaspersky applications on government devices
A keyboard is placed in front of a displayed WeChat logo in this illustration taken February 21, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Kaspersky said it was surprised and disappointed, and that the decision was made without warning or an opportunity for the firm to address the government’s concerns.

“As there has been no evidence or due process to otherwise justify these actions, they are highly unsupported and a response to the geopolitical climate rather than a comprehensive evaluation of the integrity of Kaspersky’s products and services,” the company said in a statement.

WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Treasury Board said it has no evidence that government information has been compromised, but the collection methods of the applications provide considerable access to a device’s contents, and risks of using them were “clear.”

“The decision to remove and block the WeChat and the Kaspersky applications was made to ensure that government of Canada networks and data remain secure and protected and are in line with the approach of our international partners,” the statement said.

The applications will be removed from government-issued mobile devices on Monday, and users will be blocked from downloading them in the future.

Canada in February banned TikTok, the short-video app owned by Chinese company Bytedance, from government-issued devices due to similar privacy and security concerns.