PPSA recently reported that prosecutors charged two Twitter employees with being spies for Saudi Arabia. One of the men fled the country. The other was convicted.
Now, more bad news for Americans concerned about privacy. While Twitter’s shareholders were approving the $44 billion sale of their company to Elon Musk on Tuesday, Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the state of security inside the social media platform. Zatko said that the FBI had informed him that at least one agent of China’s Ministry of State Security was “on the payroll inside Twitter.”
Zatko told the senators: “I discovered that the company had ten years of overdue critical security issues, and it was not making meaningful progress on them. This was a ticking time bomb of security vulnerabilities.” He added that he made the decision to inform the FBI, which led to his dismissal. “In those disclosures, I detail how the company leadership misled its Board of Directors, regulators, and the public. Twitter’s security failures threaten national security, compromise the privacy and security of users, and at times threaten the very continued existence of the company.”
In his more than two hours of testimony, Zatko described Twitter’s senior management as deliberately ignoring security issues to protect the bottom line. “It doesn’t matter who has keys if you don’t have any locks on the doors,” he said. “It’s not far-fetched to say an employee inside the company could take over the accounts of all the senators in this room.”
At least two agents for the Indian government were on the company payroll, Zatko said, as well as the one from China. Some ads sponsored by the Chinese government appeared to have been designed to specifically capture user information.
“Twitter is acting dangerously and negligently to turn its back on user safety,” Nora Benavidez, Free Press senior counsel, told The New York Times. These alleged Twitter breaches, as bad as they are, come on top of a host of similarly disturbing stories about privacy.
From foreign infiltration of Twitter, to potential exposure of the data of American TikTok users to Chinese intelligence, to the practice of private data brokers selling Americans’ personal information scrapped from apps to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies – it is clear that we are in a privacy crisis with implications for Americans’ well-being and national security. One way that Congress can respond to that crisis is by passing the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, which would ban the sale of private data to the government. Once that bill passes, it will be a helpful achievement in creating momentum to deal with all the remaining privacy issues.
To quote a line from a great play, “attention must be paid.”