Published: 10:53, April 19, 2023 | Updated: 10:57, April 19, 2023
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Musk: US had access to Twitter users' private messages
By ​Zhao Ruinan and Zhou Jin

In this file photo taken on Oct 4, 2022, a phone screen displays a photo of Elon Musk with the Twitter logo shown in the background, in Washington, DC. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

Twitter owner Elon Musk claimed on Monday that the US government "had full access to" everything on the social media platform, including private direct messages between users, according to a teaser clip released on Twitter.

Scheduled to air on Monday and Tuesday night with TV host Tucker Carlson, the Tesla founder alleged that government officials were permitted access to private exchanges between people on Twitter before he took over, local media outlets reported.

Musk said: "The degree to which government agencies effectively had full access to everything that was going on Twitter blew my mind. I was not aware of that."

When Carlson asked Musk if that would include people's DMs, Musk replied yes, according to the video clip. DMs refer to private direct messages.

Privacy concerns have been at the forefront as scandals and data breaches are in the news every day. According to an article published last year by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, "social media has become a significant source of information for US law enforcement and intelligence agencies", raising a host of civil rights and civil liberties concerns.

"The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department are among the many federal agencies that routinely monitor social media platforms."

Yue Shenshan, a legal expert and lawyer from Beijing Yuecheng Law Firm, said that in the era of big data, personal privacy should be strictly protected by law and cannot be violated arbitrarily.

Communication on instant messaging apps and private messages on social media platforms are extremely personal and can only be accessed by the government in very rare cases, such as for national security or criminal investigations, and it must be conducted under strict approval procedures, Yue said.

"Citizens' privacy is highly valued, and accessing private messages on social media without proper justification is considered an infringement of their rights."

China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it is hardly surprising that Washington would monitor private data of its users on social media platforms, adding that the true intention of the US is to maintain cyber hegemony.

Foreign Ministry's spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily news briefing that the US has long eavesdropped on the phone calls of European leaders and leaked military documents in recent days revealed Washington's large-scale supervision over its allies.

Noting the US repeatedly accused foreign enterprises of monitoring and stealing data of US users without any evidence, Wang said it proved that the US either has done or is doing what it accuses others of.

"It is clear that protecting cybersecurity is a pretext the US uses to perpetuate cyber hegemony," he said.

Public reactions to Musk's claim have been clear and blunt — they are shocked but some are familiar with it.

Elijah Haahr, former speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, commented on Twitter: "The government is reading our DM's? Color me shocked!"

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