Twitter Helped Saudi Arabia Track Down Dissidents Who Were Then Arrested And Tortured, Lawsuit Alleges

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A civil lawsuit brought against Twitter has alleged the company helped Saudi Arabia commit “grave human rights abuses” against users who were dissidents of the Saudi Arabian regime, according to The Guardian.

The lawsuit alleges three Saudi agents infiltrated Twitter’s corporate headquarters while posing as employees in 2014 and 2015, The Guardian reported Monday. This allegedly led to the arrest of Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan and exposed the identities of thousands of anonymous Twitter users, some of whom were reportedly detained and tortured in an effort by Saudi Arabian authorities to crackdown on dissent.

Areej al-Sadhan, Abdulrahman’s sister, initially brought the lawsuit against Twitter in May, according to the outlet. The civil lawsuit, revised in late August, claims that under the leadership of then-chief executive Jack Dorsey, the social media company knew Saudi Arabia was attempting to track down dissidents. Twitter allegedly opted to assist or willfully ignored these efforts due to financial considerations, as the government is a top investor in the company, The Guardian reported, citing the revised lawsuit.

In 2014, Ahmad Abouammo, a man who was later convicted in the U.S. for secretly acting as an agent for Saudi Arabia and giving false statements to the FBI, began accessing and sending confidential user data to Saudi Arabian officials while employed at Twitter, according to the outlet.

Al-Sadhan’s lawsuit claims Abouammo sent a direct message to Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide to the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, saying “proactively and reactively we will delete evil, my brother,” The Guardian reported. That message allegedly showed Abouammo planned to use the platform to identify and harm dissidents of the Saudi Arabian regime.

“Twitter was either aware of this message – brazenly sent on its own platform – or was deliberately ignorant to it,” the lawsuit states of the message, according to the outlet.

The Guardian’s request for comment did not receive a response from Twitter, Jack Dorsey’s company Block, Inc., or Twitter’s lawyer in the case, Ben Berkowitz.

Though Abouammo resigned from Twitter in May 2015, he continued to contact the social media company regarding requests from another aide to bin Salman, Bader al-Asaker, for the identities of confidential users, the lawsuit alleges. Despite Twitter allegedly having “ample notice” of internal personal data being under security risks, and an alleged threat of insiders illegally accessing personal data, the company did not take any action to prevent the breach, the lawsuit claims.

The company “did not simply ignore all these red flags … it was aware of the malign campaign,” the lawsuit alleges, according to The Guardian.

Ali Hamad Alzabarah, another Twitter employee believed to have been working on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government, was promoted at the social media company days before the FBI expressed concern to Twitter officials about Saudi infiltration of the company, The Guardian reported. After learning from the FBI that Alzabarah was a risk, he was allegedly put on leave and the company took his laptop. Alzabarah’s phone was not revoked, and he is accused of using it to contact officials within the Saudi government, according to the outlet.

The lawsuit alleges Twitter “had every reason to expect that Alzabarah would immediately flee to Saudi Arabia, which is exactly what he did,” The Guardian reported.

Though Twitter notified users their data “may” have been compromised, it did not offer specific information about the scale of the breach nor confirm that a breach had occurred, the lawsuit alleges, according to The Guardian.

By “failing to give this crucial information, Twitter put thousands of Twitter users at risk,” the lawsuit alleges, arguing that if they had been aware of the breach, many users would have fled Saudi Arabia out of fear of retaliation. Instead, Twitter continued to meet and strategize with Saudi Arabian officials, the lawsuit claims, according to The Guardian. (RELATED: Retired Saudi Arabian Teacher Receives Death Sentence Over Critical Tweets)

Jim Walden, a lawyer representing al-Sadhan, promised to “zealously prosecute” the lawsuit, but added that Areej simply wants Saudi Arabia to release her brother and allow him to rejoin his family in the U.S. “Were that to happen, she and Abdulrahman would gratefully resume their lives and leave justice in God’s hands,” he said, according to The Guardian.