Twitter Subpoenas Whistleblower & Former Security Chief Peiter Zatko

Twitter subpoenaed whistleblower Peiter Zatko today, asking for a raft of documents including any related to his “separation” from the company and his buying or selling of Twitter stock.

Allegations by Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief, that the company is negligent in handling cybersecurity risk and in addressing fake accounts have turned up the heat in the social media platform’s litigation against Elon Musk. Zatko’s accusations were sent to federal agencies and made their way to Congress, where he is scheduled to testify in September. That’s a month before a Delaware Chancery Court judge will hear a suit by Twitter against the billionaire Tesla and SpaceX founder for terminating his $44 billion takeover of the company.

Twitter responded to the whistleblower complaints, which were revealed by the Washington Post and CNN last week, by saying the company fired Zatko in January for what it claims was poor performance, and that security and privacy are “company-wide priorities.”

Musk’s defense for walking away from the deal inked in late April was based in part on claims that Twitter under-reports spam, or bot, accounts. He’s been asking for data. The bot issue as raised by Zatko may only be tangentially related to the case, however, would look at whether Musk had been supplied with all the data he was legally entitled to under the terms of the merger agreement. At a recent hearing, the judge asked Twitter for more information but not nearly as much as the Musk team is requesting.

Today’s subpoena requires Zatko to produce all documentation concerning “the impact or effect of false or spam accounts on Twitter’s business and operations” and any relating to Twitter’s representation” in an SEC filing that, “We have performed an internal review of a sample of accounts and estimate that the average of false or spam accounts during the fourth quarter of 2021 represented fewer than 5% of our mDAU during the quarter.” That statement has become a major talking point for Musk.

The subpoena also asked for docs on Twitter’s policies and procedures on spam or malicious accounts, and about any changes to said policies and procedures, including but not limited to Twitter’s suspension of spam or malicious accounts; documents reflecting business plans or analyses for achieving mDAU targets.

Also, it wants from Zatko, “All Documents and Communications regarding Your separation, resignation, and/or termination from Twitter” and “Your purchase or sale of 17 Twitter securities.”

The subpoena specifies that Zatko must produce sourcing for the allegations in his complaint, including relating to his reporting security vulnerabilities, the prevalence of bot or spam accounts on Twitter to CEO Parag Agrawal and Twitter’s executive team.

Zatko said he had made Agrawal and other executives aware of his concerns.

Zatko also alleged that Twitter was not in compliance with and FTC order to beef up its security and that the company attempted to hide its security vulnerabilities from investors, regulators, and the public. Twitter has asked for related documentation on all that, as well as on his allegations of “Twitter’s engagement in any unlawful activity [and] regarding foreign intelligence service agents employed at Twitter.”

Subpoenas have been flying in the case, including Elon Musk’s team requesting a ream of documentation from his former ally and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

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