Saudi Government Seeking Workaround To Intercept Tweets

Twitter does what it can to protect users’ privacy, requiring governments to go through legal channels to obtain private information – but some governments aren’t fond of rules.

If you live in Saudi Arabia, it seems your tweets aren’t being intercepted yet – but it’s really only a matter of time. And if you don’t live in Saudi Arabia, don’t be fooled into thinking your safe. Just because other governments aren’t as (unwisely) attempting to recruit folks to intercept tweets and getting publicly busted for it, doesn’t mean they’re NOT doing it.

Yes, I took my paranoia pill today.

Learning that Saudi Arabia seeks to do this isn’t particularly surprising, of course. Just last month, we shared how they were considering ending anonymous use of Twitter in the country, restricting access only to citizens who register their identification documents. 

What IS surprising is how they’re going about it:

The Wall Street Journal reports a Saudi mobile phone operator, Mobily, is “investigating claims that its employees turned to an American software engineer and online-privacy advocate to seek help in finding ways to intercept messages sent via Twitter, Whatsapp and other popular social media in the kingdom.”

“We’re looking into the subject, investigating it,” to determine the facts of the situation, said Mobily spokesman  Hamoud al Ghobaini.  He declined to elaborate, though he said the Marlinspike account of his contacts with Mobily ”is not 100% accurate.”

Who is this “American software engineer?” Well, for starters, he’s “a well-known opponent of government surveillance” so SOMEONE at Mobily didn’t do their homework.

He has also been identified as the chief technology officer and co-founder of Whisper Systems, which produces privacy and security software applications. Twitter acquired Whisper Systems in 2011.

He goes by the name Moxie Marlinspike and has a blog called “Thought Crime.” Dude seems pretty openly anti-surveillance to us, but hey. 

So Moxie shares how the whole thing went down on his blog. The gist: They asked him to help intercept tweets and such. He asked questions to clarify this request (as any good surveillance hating person should) and after gleaning more info, this happened:

When they eventually asked me for a price quote, and I indicated that I wasn’t interested in the job for privacy reasons, they responded with this:

“I know that already and I have same thoughts like you freedom and respecting privacy, actually Saudi has a big terrorist problem and they are misusing these services for spreading terrorism and contacting and spreading their cause that’s why I took this and I seek your help. If you are not interested than maybe you are on indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities.”

So privacy is cool, but the Saudi government just wants to monitor people’s tweets because… terrorism. The terror of the re-tweet.

As some commenters on that post noted, and as you are likely considering right now, the Cairo uprising never would have happened had governments been intercepting tweets “spread in support of a cause.” So yeah, I’d be @mentioning this Moxie fella and sending your love. Just do it!

This all shows how important it is to stay informed and, if you value being able to express yourself online, advocate for that ability whenever possible.

(Image from Shutterstock)

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