Twitter faces lawsuit for allegedly getting a Saudi dissident imprisoned

The plaintiff accuses Twitter of giving Saudi access to user information.

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In December 2022, former Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo was found guilty of taking bribes from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in return for sensitive account information on dissidents using the website. Now, the sister of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who was allegedly kidnapped and tortured for operating a Twitter account critical of Saudi Arabia, has filed a lawsuit accusing Twitter of breaking the law for letting its employees reveal his identity.

Areej al-Sadhan filed the complaint on her and her brother's behalf under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Her brother, Abdulrahman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for supporting terrorism. In her complaint, Areej accuses Twitter of giving her brother's "identifying information to the government of Saudi Arabia, which blatantly violates its terms and conditions." She continued: "This puts every Twitter user at risk. As a result, Saudi Arabia kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, and — through a sham trial — sentenced my brother to 20 years in prison, simply for criticizing Saudi repression on his Twitter account." The Saudi government has apparently denied Abdulrahman contact with his family, who has no idea whether he's still alive.

Abouammo and another former Twitter employee named Ali Alzabarah accessed confidential Twitter user data 30,892 times in 2015, the lawsuit states. They then allegedly handed Saudi Arabia identifying information for 6,000 Twitter user accounts, including names, birthdates, device identifiers, phone numbers, IP addresses and session IP histories associated with user accounts.

While Twitter will likely defend itself by saying that it didn't approve or wasn't aware of Saudi's espionage activities, the lawsuit also states that US intelligence agencies warned the company about Alzabarah giving Saudi Arabia user information in late 2015. Six months after the warning, Jack Dorsey, who was Twitter's CEO back then, met with Mohammed bin Salman "despite knowing full well [Saudi Arabia's] malign activities and various crimes," the complaint reads.

As The Washington Post notes, Twitter faced two other lawsuits related to Saudi's spying activities on its website. However, one was dismissed after it failed to establish a connection between the 2015 leak of information and the hacking of the plaintiff's phone three years later, which had led to his family and friends getting imprisoned. Saudi also isn't the only country conducting espionage on the website. Twitter's former security chief turned whistleblower, Peiter Zatko, revealed last year that the company was also previously warned that it had Chinese intelligence agents on its payroll.