Ex-Twitter employees charged in US with spying for Saudi Arabia

7 Nov 2019143 Views

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Two former employees of Twitter have been charged in the US with spying for Saudi Arabia to uncover personal information on its critics.

A US district court in San Francisco has unsealed documents that revealed accusations of a coordinated effort by the Saudi government to try and recruit Twitter employees to work on their behalf.

According to The Guardian, two former Twitter employees have been charged with spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia to obtain private data on users critical of the Middle Eastern country.

One of those accused, a US citizen named Ahmed Abouammo, was arrested on charges of falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation and spying. The second, a Saudi citizen named Ali Alzabarah, was accused by the court of having accessed more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015, including that of Omar Abdulaziz, a journalist and close friend of Jamal Khashoggi – the journalist murdered in a Saudi embassy last year.

‘We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable’
– TWITTER

The charged pair were allegedly rewarded with tens of thousands of dollars and luxury goods for digging into private information that their jobs didn’t require them to do. The documents went on to claim that Alzabarah spoke to his supervisors about accessing user data, but said it was only out of curiosity.

Immediately after, he was placed on administrative leave, his laptop was confiscated and he was taken out of Twitter’s offices. The investigators said that Alzabarah left for Saudi Arabia the next day and hasn’t returned to the US since, with a warrant for his arrest still outstanding.

A third person named as Saudi citizen Ahmed Almutairi has also been accused of spying for his homeland.

In a statement, Twitter responded by assuring users it is aware of “the lengths bad actors will go to” to gain access to valuable data.

“We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable,” it said. “We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com