Former Twitter engineer admits access to user data under Senator Josh Hawley’s grill: ‘Yes or no?’


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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, grilled a former Twitter executive appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, winning an admission that he had access to troves of user data.

Alex Roetter, Twitter’s former senior vice president for engineering, appeared before the committee on Wednesday to testify about the threats social media poses to homeland security. Hawley relentlessly questioned Roetter using information that Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko revealed during a hearing earlier this week.

“You were an engineer at Twitter, weren’t you? You were the senior vice president of engineering?” Hawley started.

“Right, yes,” Roetter replied.

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Alex Roetter, former senior vice president for engineering at Twitter Inc., speaks during a Senate Home Affairs and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, DC, U.S., Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.
(Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“So yesterday Mr. Zatko testified before another committee I sit on that 4,000 Twitter engineers had access to all personal information, user data, geolocations of Twitter users. Is that correct?”

Roetter tried to dodge the question, saying Zatko started working at Twitter after he left the company.

“He said all the engineers. You were an engineer. Have you had access to user data? Hawley insisted.

“When I was there, there, uh, I don’t know if it was all the engineers,” Roetter said, trailing off.

“Do you have access to user data?” Hawley repeated.

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“Well, I was the head of engineering for the whole company,” Roetter said.

“Have you had access to user data? I’m looking for a yes or a no. I’m just going to remind you that you’re under oath,” Hawley said.

“Uh, no, but I think I could have had it,” Roetter replied.

US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) questions Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, former chief security officer at Twitter, during the Senate Judiciary Committee on Data Security at Twitter, on Capitol Hill on September 13, 2022, in Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) questions former Twitter security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko during the Senate Judiciary Committee on Twitter’s Data Security, on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“Ok, ok. Well, if you can get it, that’s what we call user data access. Is that a yes?” Hawkley said.

“That’s probably true, yes,” Roetter said.

Hawley then asked Roetter if he had ever personally accessed user data or if he was aware that other engineers had ever “doxed” users, which the former executive denied.

“Did you know that Twitter engineers had ever inserted or taken over an account and tweeted or edited the content of that account? Mr. Zatko said he thought that had happened,” Hawley said.

“I’m not aware of that,” Roetter replied.

“Uh, there’s a lot to unpack there. Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Hawley concluded.

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Roetter was among three technical experts to testify in the first part of Wednesday’s hearing. Former Facebook executive Brian Boland also testified. Hawley asked him if he knew of any cooperation between Facebook and the US government during his time with the company, which ended in November 2020.

Boland said he doesn’t recall Facebook ever taking censorship action at the behest of government officials during his tenure.


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