Twitter sued for allegedly hiring Saudi spies that collected data on dissidents

Ali Al-Ahmed, a noted Saudi dissident, alleges in a California court that Twitter failed to exercise proper precautions to protect private user data.

Twitter sued for allegedly hiring Saudi spies that collected data on dissidents
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
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Twitter is facing a new lawsuit from the human rights organization Institute for Gulf Affairs for its negligence in employing two men who allegedly collected private data about political dissidents on behalf of the Saudi government.

Ali Al-Ahmed, the leader of the organization and noted Saudi dissident, filed the lawsuit in federal court for California’s northern district, naming Twitter and the two alleged Saudi spies — Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo — as defendants, Business Insider reported.

Al-Ahmed, who was granted asylum in the United States, previously filed a lawsuit against Twitter in the Southern District of New York in 2020, alleging that the two individuals hacked his account between 2013 and 2016 and leaked his personal correspondence with dissident sources to Saudi intelligence agencies.

In 2019, federal prosecutors charged both Abouammo and Alzabarah by indictment as agents of the government of Saudi Arabia who were operating in the U.S. without notification to the Attorney General, as required by law.

“Abouammo and Alzabarah, while employees at Twitter, accessed without authorization and provided to officials of the government of Saudi Arabia nonpublic information about Twitter users that were of interest to the government of Saudi Arabia, including dissidents and critics of the government. Abouammo was also charged with obstruction of justice for providing false documents to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his payments from an official of the government of Saudi Arabia.,” the federal prosecutors claimed.

CBS News reported that a third accomplice, Ahmed Almutairi, was also added to the prosecution in July 2020.

Al-Ahmed’s lawsuit describes him as a political refugee to the U.S., where he has remained since 1998.

In his latest lawsuit against the two alleged spies and Twitter, the lawsuit claims that after Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal purchased $300 million of Twitter stock in 2011, which amounts to a 5.2 per cent stake in the company, Talal was imprisoned and potentially tortured before agreeing to sign over large portions of his assets to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The lawsuit claims that Twitter should have known the Saudi Crown Prince held an outsized stake in the platform and failed to exercise proper precautions to protect user data when it hired Alzabarah, a Saudi national.

The lawsuit further argues that if the platform “performed an appropriate background and screening test, it would have revealed that Alzabarah and Abouammo had troubling and suspicious relationships with key members of the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].”

The lawsuit alleges that the access provided to the accused spies resulted in the disappearances and possible executions of Saudi dissidents, with whom Al-Ahmed had contact with.

“Several Twitter users, who either followed Mr. Al-Ahmed’s Twitter account and/or had direct contact with him through the use of Twitter’s private messaging feature, have disappeared, been arrested, or have been executed,” the lawsuit states. “One such example is Abdullah al-Hamid, a Saudi Dissident and follower of Mr. Al-Ahmed’s Twitter account, who was jailed and ultimately died in custody.”

The plaintiff argues that Twitter suspended his Arabic language profile @AliAlahmed “without explanation, warning, or justification” in May 2018, alleging that it was done to appease the Saudi government.

Al-Ahmed says that despite the DOJ indictment against the two accused spies, Twitter has yet to unsuspend the account.

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