Twitter Allegedly “Turned a Blind Eye” Over Dissident’s Account Suspension

Twitter was sued on Monday in the Southern District of New York by plaintiff Ali Al-Ahmed, a political dissident, for suspending his account after Twitter employees were allegedly also working as spies to a foreign government and disclosed personal information of his to that foreign government; he claimed Twitter is “turning a blind eye” on this conduct and it is in violation of his contract with Twitter which he made when he created the account, the Stored Communications Act, and other statutes. The lawsuit arises from charges brought last year against Twitter employees accused of espionage.

The plaintiff “is one of the leading political dissidents to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (hereinafter ‘KSA’) who resides, and has been granted asylum in, the United States.” He asserted that Twitter “failed to properly safeguard Plaintiff’s account, and as a result, personal and highly sensitive information was disclosed to third parties including, but not limited to, the KSA and its agents.” Furthermore, the plaintiff asserts that “[b]ecause of the tremendous wealth of key figures in KSA, major corporations, including Twitter, Inc., have enabled, collaborated with, aided and abetted, and turned a blind eye to KSA’s efforts to suppress, torture, falsely imprison, terrorize, and murder dissenters both within Saudi Arabia and around the world.”

The plaintiff stated that around August 2013 until about December 2015, two Twitter employees “accessed the company’s information on an array of Saudi dissidents including Mr. Al-Ahmed”; the two workers were “charged by the United States government with being KSA spies.” The plaintiff claims that through these alleged spies “the KSA was successful in using Twitter’s internal resources to identify Mr. Al-Ahmed as a critic of the government and ultimately silence him.” The two workers, Alzabarah and Abouammo, supposedly “mined Twitter’s internal systems for, inter alia, personal information regarding Mr. Al-Ahmed, email addresses, contacts, phone numbers, birth dates, and internet protocol (‘IP’) addresses.” However, the Twitter “Playbook” and its policies prohibit employees from “engaging in outside employment or consulting ‘or other business activity that would create a conflict of interest with the company.” The plaintiff asserted that “[c]ertainly, acting as spies…would be prohibited” by this rule book and their terms of employment. Al-Ahmed states that neither of the employees would need to access his information in the capacity of their jobs at Twitter, thus this should be a violation.

Al-Ahmed’s Twitter account, “@AliAlahmed,” has 36,000 followers and is followed by “multiple prominent Saudi officials,” however, this account has since been suspended, and the plaintiff said he has not been able to appeal the suspension..” The plaintiff also claims that as a result of this suspension he is not able to gain access to his 36,000 Twitter followers. The complaint stated that “Mr. Al-Ahmed spent many years of time and effort cultivating, developing and curating his expansive list of Twitter followers, which effectively amounted to valuable intellectual and proprietary property – particularly insofar as it earned him credibility, career nods and income.” He added that “[u]pon information and belief, some of Mr. Al-Ahmed’s followers’ accounts have also been shut down as a result of protesting his account suspension. This is not only immoral, it is undemocratic.”

The plaintiff accused Twitter of violating the Stored Communications Act through its conduct, the conduct of its employees, and its supposed ratification of this conduct through Twitter Chairman’s photograph and meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince after learning about the conduct of its employees. Al-Ahmed claimed that Twitter breached a contractual relationship that was created when the plaintiff created his Twitter account

Al-Ahmed alleged that Twitter interfered with prospective economic advantage because he invested a substantial amount of time and effort on his account and “had a reasonable expectancy of employment and career opportunities he received through Twitter” because he used the platform “as a means to network and secure other employment or career opportunities,” such as news or media interviews. Additional allegations include tortious invasion of privacy and negligence.

The plaintiff has sought declaratory judgment in his favor; an award for damages, including compensatory, punitive, and other damages; an award for costs and fees; and other relief as determined by the court.

Al-Ahmed is represented by Gerstman Schwartz, LLP.