For the first time, the American government has charged Saudis for spying within the United States. The charges come against two former Twitter employees who are accused of using their positions within the company to collect information and send it back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The indictment specifically cites that these individuals acted as unregistered agents and submitting falsified documents to the Federal Bureau of Investigations to support their continued activities within the United States.
Three individuals were named, though only two were charged. The first is US citizen Ahmad Abouammo, who left Twitter in 2015 of his own accord. The second is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen, who was confronted by Twitter about his activities and put on leave from the company. He fled the country the next day, sending a letter of resignation to Twitter from the flight home. The third is Ahmed al Mutairi, also a Saudi citizen, who acted as an intermediary for the "invisible hand" of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The way it worked is that starting in 2014, Abouammo and Alzabarah, working for Twitter, collected information about users at the behest of Al Mutairi. While many of those who were investigated were Saudi citizens, others were simply critical of the Saudi government or Bin Salman himself. The collected information included the standard email addresses and IP addresses but also extended to browsers and device information. With this combined data, the Saudi government could potentially be able to track the movements of these people via their computers and mobile devices.
This issue highlights several issues in the technology industry. The first revolves around the amount of data that employees of software companies can have about the users of that software. If this exact scenario had happened in a company like Uber, the government could have tracked the movements of those they considered dissenters. On the other side, it also brings up the issue of hiring people with strong ties to foreign governments, especially those with a history of violating its citizens' privacy.