Hacker and network security specialist Peiter “Mudge” Zatko testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about allegations in his whistleblower report last month.
The Senate hearing arose out of serious concerns that Twitter executives failed in their responsibility to protect user data. In his whistleblower report, Zatko detailed a systemic lack of institutional concern for user data privacy or platform security throughout his tenure as the social media company’s chief security officer.
Persistent throughout the Senate hearing, there was bipartisan disappointment, as if Twitter was a long-cherished American manufacturer that had just succumbed to poor leadership.
But Americans should consider whether there was ever a perch from which Twitter fell to cause this disappointment in the company’s complete lack of concern for any outcome other than profit.
Senators can rightly express their shock at the lack of internal security policies on Twitter, but much of that shock should be directed at lawmakers who allowed an oligarchy to grow in Silicon Valley.
If the testimony of Zatko, better known as Mudge, isn’t enough to compel congressional lawmakers to turn the tables inside the Silicon Valley temple, then America needs new lawmakers.
The World Economic Forum’s maxim “You will own nothing and be happy” is already true on Twitter. Mudge’s responses to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., revealed that more than 4,000 Twitter employees have unlimited access to the app.
This means that 4,000 uncontrolled employees could observe private messages, “hack” into accounts and observe every scroll or click on Twitter’s platform.
Your Twitter account doesn’t belong to you, and every action you take on it is subject to the whims of a Silicon Valley engineer. Or a Twitter account, due to unchecked platform controls, could belong to a Chinese Communist Party agent with that access.
Thanks to Mudge’s testimony, we know at least one Chinese spy who worked on Twitter. Whether the foreign agent is Chinese, Indian, or Saudi is irrelevant to the question of how irresponsible a critical public service is to the interests and well-being of the American people.
Mudge made it clear to senators that Twitter was not obligated to consider the threat of foreign interference because its profit interest lay in lax regulatory scrutiny. Congress should change that dynamic for Twitter and the rest of Silicon Valley.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw in the expectation that the “free market” is the best way to confront the Big Tech oligarchy. Enterprise data security measures are difficult to implement and require significant financial and human investment.
In response to a series of questions from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mudge expressed “hope” that Twitter executives adhere to more responsible security practices.
But hope is unfortunately not enough to counter demands for unlimited access to data in the name of efficient and profitable commercial surveillance.
Twitter and its California tech partners view Americans as users the same way drug cartels view American teens as users. Twitter can take advantage of us and manipulate us for profit and ideology.
In the wake of Mudge’s whistleblower report, we can no longer pretend to be surprised. Tech giants will act to subjugate a the whole class of americans unless compelled to do so by the fullest extent of the law.
Hope tech politics has failed us, and we should also stop hoping that entrepreneur Elon Musk, or any other billionaire white knight, will save a vital tech common carrier for the rest of us. It’s clear that Musk is doing everything he can not to buy Twitter, despite shareholders voting to approve the sale of the company at the price he was offering.
While Musk, owner of Twitter, could provide a more free-speech-friendly platform, he would face significant institutional opposition to meaningful reform, while allowing representatives of the people to avoid real accountability.
The rot that Musk should be exposing runs so deep that Twitter doesn’t even have a testing environment for the platform. That means every software update is tested on real Twitter users, as opposed to a hands-on environment where engineers might verify functionality before a large-scale rollout.
Literally, Americans are a science experiment for the bizarre worldviews of engineers who have no legal obligation to the common good.
Many might miss the significance of this, but anyone with experience in software development knows that the lack of a testing environment for new features is an irresponsible and childish exposure of Twitter’s business and operations. .
Congress should pursue comprehensive technology legislation that includes anti-trust measures, speech protections, data privacy and child protections. Later we will see the details of what this bill should include.
Either way, corporate officers should be personally responsible for violating laws written by elected officials. As Peiter “Mudge” Zatko pointed out to the Senate committee, corporate fines don’t make sense.
It is long overdue that we hold the decision makers of these Silicon Valley conglomerates personally accountable for the dereliction of duty as leaders of the common carriers that are so essential to the American way of life.
This piece originally appeared in The daily signal