Last week a social media activist, Martha O’Donovan, was arrested for a tweet that went out in September 2017 that is said to have denigrated the President of Zimbabwe as well as for having set up organisations that are aiming to “subvert a constitutional government through masterminding a social media campaign to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means”.
That our government can be overthrown through WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook (WTF in short!) don’t say much about us and our security but something more interesting is the way the Zimbabwe Republic Police managed to get to O’Donovan.
According to court documents that have been widely shared online, the police managed to get an I.P. address from where the Twitter account @Matigary was tweeting from and proceed to the internet service provider, in this case, ZOL, and asked for details about the user of that I.P address on a particular day.
Not to digress too much, I suspect that the police did not reach out to Twitter to get the credentials of the @Matigary account holder, but however, may have used a web URL to decipher who had access to the account. Basically, what may have happened is someone on the Government’s end sent a direct message (DM) to @Matigary on Twitter, trying to get them to click on this link. When the link was clicked on, Government operatives were able to see what I.P. address clicked on the link, what device the person clicking on the link was used together with what operating system.
I say DM because it would be foolish for them to tweet at or tag @Matigary and think that any click on that link would be from that account because if it was public, anyone could click on it.
Armed with this data the police sought a court order that they could use to track down the source of that click (I suspect) and their investigations led them to ZOL officers.
Information from Techzim sources at ZOL confirm that there was an enquiry last week from the police regarding Twitter activity and standard practice from the internet service provider is to give as limited information as is necessary.
What is suspected is that ZOL confirmed the address of the user who was allocated the said I.P. address on a given date, as well as broad activity (ZOL can track the websites you visit but can’t see what exactly you do on those websites). They may also have been able to advise what devices accessed the internet from that connection and for how long. A log of websites visited may have been surrendered.
Information we have is that earlier in the month O’Donovan made a complaint to ZOL about her data finishing faster than it should have, suspecting that perhaps someone else may have had access to her account. Disappearing data is an issue in Zimbabwe though, so it may not have been an external user.
ZOL probably does not know what Twitter accounts you own and manage, neither does any local ISP/IAP. This data will have to be sought directly from the social networks, like how the Zimbabwe government sent a team to the US to go “ask Facebook” about Baba Jukwa’s credentials.
They came back with a suntan and empty-handed.
Alternative Conspiracy Theory
Law enforcement recently had a run in with MotoRepublik, the creative space where Magamba TV, OpenParlyZW and BustopTV are housed. From this event, the government may have been alerted to their activities and kept a watchful eye on them, maybe being suspicious that there was an American citizen working with them.
Magamba TV are the makers of the satire show ‘The Week‘ and their jokes on video could have stepped on a few toes.
Subsequently, the government may have tracked down credentials for O’Donovan and sent her a link that after she clicked on, resulting in them accessing her I.P. address, which they then took to ZOL.
And this is what may have got us here.
The court case will be interesting to watch and see what facts the government will put on the table to prove that O’Donovan has access to the Matigary Twitter account, as well as how Magamba TV and OpenParlyZW were going to overthrow the government.
Have you got any details to this matter and may make it clearer? Please advise in the comments below if you know (or think) could have happened to get us here.
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