The US government has taken a bold step in its ongoing investigation of X, the company previously known as Twitter, by seeking to compel Elon Musk to testify. The government’s move comes amid concerns about Musk’s decisions, which have raised questions about X’s ability to comply with the law and safeguard user privacy.
This investigation predates Musk’s acquisition of X but has gained momentum due to his actions, according to a recent court filing by the Justice Department on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
In the court filing dated Monday, the government highlights depositions from former X executives, including the former chief information security officer and former chief privacy officer. These executives testified that the significant layoffs and resignations following Musk’s $44 billion takeover may have hindered X from meeting its security obligations under a 2011 FTC consent agreement.
Twitter and its legal representatives have yet to respond to the government’s request for comment.
One concerning revelation from the testimony cited in the filing is that after the departures, a substantial portion of the company’s security program lacked effective management and oversight, ranging from 37% to 50%. This resulted in a void of responsibility for critical security controls. Additionally, planned upgrades to the security program were described as “impaired.”
The filing also asserts that Musk personally pushed for the rapid rollout of Twitter Blue, the company’s paid subscription service. This led to the company’s security team bypassing required security and privacy checks mandated by Twitter’s policies and the FTC order.
Moreover, the filing alleges that Musk’s decision to grant certain journalists access to internal company records, which led to the controversial “Twitter Files” claiming politically motivated censorship, initially posed a risk of exposing private user data in violation of the FTC order. Although safeguards were eventually put in place, doubts lingered about Musk’s commitment to privacy and security.
X has taken steps to block Musk from testifying and has requested a federal court to invalidate the entire FTC order related to user privacy protection, accusing the FTC of excessive scrutiny.
Nonetheless, the US government insists that Musk’s testimony is crucial due to the apparent “chaotic environment” at X resulting from sudden and drastic changes following Musk’s acquisition. This scrutiny is rooted in the FTC’s concerns about X Corp.’s compliance with the 2011 order, with potential substantial fines and legal consequences for executives, including Musk, if violations are confirmed.
The FTC investigation stems from allegations made by Twitter’s former security chief, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, predating Musk’s involvement, which claimed that Twitter had failed to uphold its legally binding commitments to the FTC regarding user privacy and security.
The investigation has not only raised concerns about corporate compliance but has also become politically charged, with Musk and his allies, including Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, publicly accusing the FTC of harassment and overreach.
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