Former Twitter engineer admits access to user data under grilling from Sen. Josh Hawley: ‘Yes or no?’
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, grilled a former Twitter executive appearing before the Senate Homeland Security committee on Wednesday, securing 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 Wednesday to testify regarding the threats social media pose to homeland security. Hawley questioned Roetter relentlessly using information Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko had revealed in a hearing earlier this week.
“You were an engineer at Twitter, is that right? You were the senior vice president for engineering?” Hawley began.
“Correct, yes,” Roetter responded.
“So, yesterday Mr. Zatko testified to another committee I sit on that 4,000 engineers at Twitter had access to all of the personal information, user data, geolocations of Twitter users. Is that accurate?”
Roetter attempted to dodge the question, saying Zatko started work at Twitter after his departure from the company.
“He said all the engineers. You were an engineer. Did you have access to user data?” Hawley pressed.
“When I was there, there, uh, I don’t know if it was all the engineers,” Roetter said, trailing off.
“Did you have access to user data?” Hawley repeated.
“Well, I was the head of engineering for the whole company,” Roetter said.
“Did you have access to user data? I’m looking for a yes or a no. I’ll just remind you you’re under oath,” Hawley said.
“Uh, no, but I think I could have gotten it,” Roetter responded.
“Ok, ok. Well, if you can get it, that’s what we call access to user data. Is that a yes?” Hawley said.
“That’s probably right, yeah,” Roetter said.
Hawley then questioned Roetter on whether he had ever accessed user data personally or was aware of other engineers ever “doxing” users, both of which the former executive denied.
“Were you aware of Twitter engineers ever inserting or taking over an account and tweeting out or changing the content of that account? Mr. Zatko said he thought that had happened,” Hawley said.
“I’m not aware of that,” Roetter responded.
“Uh, lots to unpack there. Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Hawley concluded.
Roetter was among three tech experts to testify in the first section of Wednesday’s hearing. Former Facebook executive Brian Boland also testified. Hawley pressed him on whether he was aware of any cooperation between Facebook and the U.S. government during his time at the company, which ended in November 2020.
Boland said he could not recall Facebook ever taking censorious action at the behest of government officials during his tenure.