(CTN News) – A revised civil US lawsuit accuses Twitter of helping Saudi Arabia commit grave human rights abuses against its users, including disclosing confidential user dataSaudi authorities at a much higher rate than it does in the U.S., U.K. or Canada.
X was sued by Areej al-Sadhan, the sister of a Saudi aid worker who was forcibly disappeared and sentenced to 20 years in prison last May.
Three Saudi agents infiltrated Twitter by pretending to be employees during 2014 and 2015. Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was arrested and his identity revealed. Detention and torture of anonymous Twitter users resulted from government crackdown on dissent.
Al-Sadhan’s lawyers updated their claim last week to include new allegations that Twitter, under former CEO Jack Dorsey, ignored or knew about the Saudi government’s campaign against critics, yet provided assistance because of financial considerations and the company’s close ties to Saudi Arabia.
X was initially viewed as crucial to democratic movements during the Arab spring, and therefore became a source of concern for the Saudi government in 2013.
Earlier, Human Rights Watch condemned a Saudi court for sentencing a man to death based solely on his Twitter and YouTube activity.
A Saudi scholar and government critic living in exile in the UK is the brother of the convicted man. HRW found that al-Ghamdi was accused of having two accounts with a combined 10 followers. In both accounts, well-known government critics were retweeted.
In December 2014, Ahmad Abouammo began accessing and sending confidential user data to Saudi Arabian officials. In a message to Saud al-Qahtani, Mohammed bin Salman’s close aid, he said “proactively and reactively, we will delete evil”. The lawsuit refers to the identification and harming of Saudi dissidents. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 by Al-Qahtani, the US claims.
Twitter either knew or was deliberately ignorant of this message, the revised lawsuit states.
Press inquiries are not answered by Twitter.
The Guardian contacted the company lawyer, Ben Berkowitz of Keker, Van Nest & Peters, but did not hear back. We also contacted Dorsey’s new company, Block, Inc, for a comment, but did not hear back.
After Abouammo resigned in May 2015, he continued to contact to identify confidential users on behalf of Bader al-Asaker, a senior aide to Mohammed bin Salman. The lawsuit alleges that he told the company the requests were on behalf of his “old Saudi partners”.
According to the lawsuit, Twitter was aware of security risks to internal personal data, and that insiders might be able to access it illegally.
“Twitter was aware of the malign campaign”, the lawsuit claims.
Twitter received a complaint from a Saudi user on 28 September 2015. Despite accessing the user’s account previously, the company did not prevent one of the Saudis who was later accused – Ali Hamad Alzabarah – from accessing confidential user data.
The lawsuit alleges that Saudi Arabian authorities would follow up with by filing a so-called EDR – or emergency disclosure request – once they received confidential user data from its agents inside the company, so they could obtain documents that confirmed a user’s identity. EDRs were often approved the same day.
Asaker found two Twitter users’ tweets objectionable in May 2015, so Albabarah accessed their data within hours. A lawsuit alleges sent EDRs and approved them automatically.
According to the lawsuit, Twitter granted information requests to the kingdom “significantly more often” than to Canada, the UK, Australia, and Spain.
Days before was confronted by the FBI about a Saudi infiltration, Twitter promoted Alzabarah. Alzabarah expressed his “unimaginable happiness” to his Saudi government contact, al-Asaker. Asaker arranged the promotion or was influential, according to Alzabarah.
Twitter confiscated Alzabarah’s laptop after learning of the FBI’s concerns, but not his phone, which he used extensively to contact Saudi state contacts. Twitter had every reason to expect Alzabarah would flee to Saudi Arabia immediately, the lawsuit alleges.
In response to the Guardian’s request for comment, the US attorney’s office in San Francisco did not respond.
Later, Twitter would notify affected users, telling them their data “may” have been breached, but it didn’t provide any further information about the extent or certainty of the breach.
Thousands of Twitter users were put at risk because Twitter failed to provide this vital information. Even though Twitter knew of the breach, it met with Saudi Arabia and strategized. Dorsey met with bin Salman to discuss “training and qualifying Saudi cadres” after the FBI alerted the company.
Al Sadhan’s lawyer, Jim Walden, said Areej wants Saudi Arabia to release her brother so that he can rejoin his family in the United States. Upon returning home, she and Abdulrahman will leave justice to God..”