The sister of a Saudi activist who was imprisoned in 2018 sued Twitter on Tuesday for allowing its employees to give private information identifying anonymous users to the Saudi government, which allegedly used the data to target and arrest dissidents—the latest allegation of Saudi government operatives using Twitter to spy.
Areej Al-Sadhan, an American citizen, filed the case against Twitter and several Saudi officials in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of her brother, Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, who was arrested in 2018 and is serving a 20 year sentence in Saudi Arabia for dissent against the current regime.
Al-Sadhan alleges Twitter gave identifying information about her brother to the Saudi government, which she said “blatantly violates” the social media company’s terms and conditions and “puts every Twitter user at risk.”
Her brother worked for the Red Crescent, a Red Cross-like aid group that operates in most Muslim countries, and allegedly ran anonymous Twitter accounts mocking government officials and religious clerics before he was sentenced to prison in 2021, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In addition to sharing information about her brother, Al-Sadhan claims Twitter allowed Saudi officials to access information on “thousands” of anonymous users, most of whom posted “critical or embarrassing information” about the Saudi regime, over a seven-month period in 2014 to 2015.
Forbes reached out to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment.
Tuesday’s lawsuit builds on the August 2022 conviction of former Twitter manager Ahmad Abouamm, who was allegedly recruited by the Saudi government to use his insider knowledge to share personal information of dissidents. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook played a major role during the Arab Spring, a youth uprising against governments in the Middle East and North Africa between 2010 and 2012. Its main purpose was facilitating communication among participants of the mass protests during that time. “Once the chosen platform for Arab youth revolutionizing to liberate their countries from despotic leadership during the Arab Spring, [Twitter]enabled its co-conspirators in the Saudi Criminal Enterprise to crush that very dissent,” Al-Sadhan’s lawsuit says.
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Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is the second-largest shareholder in Twitter after principal owner Elon Musk, holding almost 6% of shares. He is the first cousin of Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, who has been the crown prince of Saudi Arabia since 2017.
When he took over the company last year, Musk provided internal communications to various journalists in a series called the Twitter Files, which was meant to bring to light some of the communications between Twitter executives and political campaigns or government officials. Although Musk has been critical of Twitter’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey, a report in April found Twitter has fully complied with more than 80% of government requests to remove or alter content since Musk acquired the company—an increase from 50% before his ownership. The majority of those requests came from foreign countries such as Turkey, India and Russia, but Saudi Arabia was not included.
Jailed Saudi dissident, sister sue Twitter under RICO act in spy case (Washington Post)
Former Twitter Employees Charged With Spying For Saudi Arabia (Forbes)
Ex-Twitter Employee Convicted Of Sending Private Data To Saudi Government (Forbes)