India forced Twitter to put agent on payroll, whistleblower says


FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A former Twitter Inc security chief has alleged that the Indian government forced the social media firm to put a government agent on the payroll, according to a whistleblower disclosure with U.S. regulators.

Peiter 'Mudge' Zatko raised the issue with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission among other security lapse claims at Twitter.

He said the government agent would have had access to sensitive user data due to Twitter's weak security infrastructure, according to a redacted version of the complaint uploaded by the Washington Post newspaper and verified by Zatko's attorney at Whistleblower Aid.

A company source told Reuters that the allegations about the India government had surfaced previously within Twitter, without elaborating further.

Representatives for India's IT ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"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," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement regarding Zatko's allegations.

Twitter is engaged in a legal challenge against the Indian government after it asked a local court in July to overturn some government orders to remove content from the social media platform, and alleged abuse of power by officials.

The next hearing in the case is set for Thursday.

"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's complaint noted.

The Washington Post report said that supporting information for Zatko's claims had gone to the National Security Division of the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Earlier this month, a U.S. court convicted a former Twitter manager accused of spying for Saudi Arabia on six criminal counts, including acting as an agent for the country and trying to disguise a payment from an official tied to Saudi's royal family.

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in New Delhi and Fanny Potkin in Singapore; editing by Kenneth Li and Jason Neely)

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