Former Twitter employee found guilty of spying on users for Saudi government

Former Twitter employee found guilty of spying on users for Saudi government

Aug. 10 (UPI) — A former Twitter employee was convicted on six charges alleging he spied on the social network’s users for Saudi Arabia.

Ahmad Abouammo, 44, was found guilty on charges including acting as an agent for Saudi Arabia, money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and falsifying records and faces 10-20 years in prison.

“In this case, the government demonstrated, and the jury found, that Abouammo violated a sacred trust to keep private personal information from Twitter’s customers and sold private customer information to a foreign government,” Stephanie Hinds, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, said.

“As this case demonstrates, we will not tolerate the misuse of personal information or attempts by foreign governments to recruit secret, malign agents at American technology companies.”

Abouammo, a U.S. resident born in Egypt, managed Twitter’s partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa from 2013 to 2015.

Prosecutors said that he developed relationships with prominent individuals in the region including a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and shared the information of Twitter users that were critical of the Saudi government in exchange for bribes.

The jury was presented evidence that Bader Al-Asaker, an aide to bin Salman, sent Abouammo $300,000 in wire transfers and a Hublot watch in exchange for the confidential Twitter account information of Saudi dissidents.

“Power. Greed. Lies. You heard this story, told by the evidence here in this courtroom,” Eric Cheng, an assistant U.S. attorney, said during closing statements.

Abouammo and his attorneys contended that he was merely a Twitter employee that had been doing his job, noting that other media partnerships managers at the company also developed close relationships with influential people.

Ali Alzabarah, another former Twitter employee, was also charged in the scheme but fled the country before he could be arrested.

Abouammo on Wednesday was acquitted of several charges related to communications between Alzabarah and Saudi officials, indicating the jury was not convinced he influenced his co-worker’s actions.

Angela Chuang, a federal public defender that represented Abouammo, argued that the case was a product of a botched investigation and Twitter carelessly handling its users’ data.

“Both the government and Twitter need a way to save face,” Chuang told the jury, adding that the U.S. let its primary suspect escape and Twitter threw Abouammo “under the bus.”

“This case is the best they could come up with?” she said.


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