SAN FRANCISCO — The Justice Department charged two former Twitter employees on Wednesday with exploiting their access to the company’s internal systems to spy for Saudi Arabia, raising questions about the security of technology companies as they grapple with scrutiny for spreading disinformation and influencing public opinion.
In its complaint, the Justice Department charged Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah, both of whom previously worked at Twitter. Mr. Alzabarah is a Saudi citizen, and Mr. Abouammo is an American, the complaint said.
A third person, Ahmed Almutairi, a Saudi citizen, was also charged. Mr. Almutairi previously ran a social media marketing company that did work for the Saudi royal family, according to the complaint.
The case is the first time federal prosecutors have charged Saudis with spying inside the United States.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and his close advisers have conducted a broad effort to silence critics both inside the kingdom and abroad. That included the grooming of a Saudi employee at Twitter whom Western intelligence officials suspected of spying on user accounts to help the Saudi leadership, The New York Times reported last year.
Saudi operatives have also used Twitter to harass critics. Twitter is a popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010.
In a statement, a Twitter spokesman thanked the Justice Department and F.B.I. and said: “We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service. Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees.” The company added that it was committed to protecting those who use the service to talk about freedom and human rights.
The Washington Post earlier reported on the charges.
The post Former Twitter Employees Charged With Spying for Saudi Arabia appeared first on New York Times.