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India forced Twitter to hire a government agent, whistleblower claims

Former employee Peiter Zatko says the social media platform gave the agent direct unsupervised access to the company’s systems and user data

The Indian government forced Twitter to hire a government agent and grant them unsupervised access to data, according to a former employee of the social media platform.

Former senior Twitter executive Peiter “Mudge” Zatko alleged that the government forced the social media company to hire one or more individuals who were government agents and who then had access to huge amounts of Twitter’s user data, as reported by The Indian Express.

Zatko, who made the comments during a whistleblower disclosure with US regulators, alleged that Twitter knowingly permitted an Indian government agent direct unsupervised access to the company’s systems and user data.

“The company did not in fact disclose to users that it was believed by the executive team that the Indian government had succeeded in placing agents on the company payroll,” Zatko, former head of safety at Twitter, said in his complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

This comes as Twitter is currently engaged in a legal challenge with India's Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) after it asked a court in July to overturn some government orders to remove content from the platform, alleging abuse of power by officials.

MeitY introduced Information Technology Rules in February 2021 which forced social media companies to hire employees who would liaison with law enforcement agencies to help them in investigations. The platforms also had to hire a compliance officer who would ensure the companies were following the rules, as well as a grievance officer to respond to any complaints.

It isn’t clear whether there’s a link between the whistleblower’s allegations of the government agent being hired and the new rules requiring the platforms to hire employees for the new roles. However, Zatko told The Washington Post that the evidence to support his allegations has been shared with US intelligence agencies.

Zatko added that in countries where Twitter had to have a physical presence and employees, the threat of harm to Twitter employees was enough to cause it to seriously consider complying with foreign government requests it would otherwise fundamentally oppose. He said that the government of India, along with Russia and Nigeria, aimed to force Twitter to hire local employees that could be used as leverage.

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IT Pro has contacted Twitter for comment.

Zatko was fired from his role for ineffective leadership and poor performance, a Twitter spokesperson told The Indian Express.

“What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context,” said the spokesperson. “Mr. Zatko’s allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders. Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be.”

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