Students from the University of California, Davis have been warned against using messaging apps like WhatsApp or WeChat when traveling to China.
The travel warning, which also told travelers to not make “unfavorable political statements or postings on social media,” was reportedly delivered on Monday via an email from the university’s director of liability and property programs Gary Leonard.
According to the South China Morning Post, the message was not delivered to all students, but recipients at least included those in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
“While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat and like messaging apps is legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a US citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges,” the email read.
“Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against Western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure. We recommend not using these messaging apps at this time.”
It’s worth noting that the United States State Department has recently updated its travel advisory to China after last month’s high-profile detentions of three Canadian citizens, warning U.S. nationals of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” and exit bans.
At least two electrical and computer engineering graduate students have confirmed receiving the email. They both refused to comment on the travel warning.
The travel advice is said to be based on the information from private risk management firm WorldAware.
While the detailed list of China travel warnings was not posted on UC Davis’ travel news and updates page, the State Department’s travel advisory was uploaded on Tuesday.
According to the school’s spokeswoman Melissa Lutz Blouin, links to official US travel and health advisories are usually posted “as a matter of routine for places where our faculty, staff and students travel.”