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Twitter denies it failed to warn Saudi dissident of account hack

Twitter said it promptly sent safety alerts to Abdulaziz and others with accounts it suspected were accessed without authorization by an employee, Ali Alzabarah, who fled to Saudi Arabia after the company learned of his activities and seized his laptop.

By: Bloomberg | Updated: December 18, 2019 5:57:19 pm
Twitter Denies It Failed to Warn Saudi Dissident of Account Hack On Monday Twitter asked a San Francisco federal judge to throw out the case.

Twitter Inc said an outspoken Saudi dissident whose account was hacked in 2015 by an employee at the social network was properly warned about the intrusion at the time, contrary to his claims in a lawsuit.

The company on Monday asked a San Francisco federal judge to throw out the case, saying the central allegation by Omar Abdulaziz is wrong. McKinsey & Co, accused by Abdulaziz of writing a report that alerted the Saudi government to his human rights activism, is also seeking dismissal of the suit.

Twitter said it promptly sent safety alerts to Abdulaziz and others with accounts it suspected were accessed without authorization by an employee, Ali Alzabarah, who fled to Saudi Arabia after the company learned of his activities and seized his laptop. In November, after a multiyear investigation, the US filed criminal charges against Alzabarah, another ex-Twitter employee and a third man.

“As a precaution, we are alerting you that your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors,” the December 2015 notice said, according to the court filing.

Abdulaziz alleged that Twitter’s failure to tell him about the hack — which he said allowed the Saudi royal family to gather intelligence on him — put him and others in danger. He claims that Saudi agents placed malware on his phone in June 2018 that allowed them to spy on his activities, including his plans with journalist Jamal Khashoggi to organize a social media protest. Khashoggi was slain months later in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

Twitter contends Abdulaziz, who has been living in Canada since 2009, was well-known to the Saudi government as one of its most influential critics long before his account was hacked. The company also disavowed responsibility for his continuing persecution, saying in its filing that “Abdulaziz has not pleaded any connection between these terrible events in 2018 and Alzabarah’s access to his Twitter account three years earlier in 2015.”

McKinsey said it’s being wrongfully blamed for “one page in an internal document” that cited Abdulaziz’s “widely read public commentary critical of the Saudi government’s austerity measures.” The management consulting company said in its filing that by Abdulaziz’s own account, the Saudi government’s targeting of him began three years before McKinsey allegedly provided its document to the kingdom.

A hearing on the dismissal requests is set for Jan. 23.

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