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Communications interception - Zimbabwe
Robert Ndlovu
August 06, 2007

View the Index of articles on the Interception of Communications Bill

"The act empowers President Robert Mugabe's government to establish an information centre to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, open mail and intercept faxes and e-mails."

Here I will discus from a technical point of view as to what the Information Center and can not do. To start with the government failed to setup up the so called Command Center. The key reason for this failure was namely lack of funds and lack of expertise.

So as a quick fix the government will force ISP to install and maintain the equipment and train its own people at their own costs.

What can be intercepted?

Postal Mail - letters this is too obvious as all the government agents need to do is wait at the post office serving your area to open your letter before you get it. As a result sensitive communication should never be sent via the postman.

Faxes - Faxes can be intercepted pretty easily by agents if of course they know your fax number. The technology and software involved is expensive but very possible considering the govt owns TelOne which runs the telephone wires to the fax machines in Zimbabwe. In this instance the agents have to physically tap directly into TelOne circuits. As a result use of FAX for sensitive info should be avoided unless of course you are using a cellular fax number which will in turn mean agents will GSM provider access to intercept the cellular faxes. The best option here is using web based faxes.

Internet faxes. These internet faxes have an international number based in say US or UK.You send and receive your faxes from your computer. You pay like $ 9.99 per month.

Local - E-mail Interception of email depends on 2 specific items (i) is your email a local Zimbabwe email or NOT. If your mail ends with it is a local email. International emails are email services like Yahoo , Hotmail , Gmail just to mention a few. To intercept your local (Zimbabwe ) email the govt agents will only need to go to the ISP where the email services are being hosted. Log into the mail server and read your emails. Again the local emails are stored in machines that reside in Harare, Byo servers being provided by the likes of ZOL, Mweb, Telco internet etc.

International email - Any of the FREE international emails are the safest to use. The command center can not intercept them. Traffic on the web travels in different routes every time you send a messaged. Also MOST importantly the email services are NOT hosted in Zimbabwe but in the US or UK or Japan etc. All you do when you open your email from Yahoo for instance is sending a request to Yahoo with your username and password and Yahoo will respond and push your messages onto your inbox. When you send your username and password they are encrypted meaning it would pointless for any person to try and intercept your login details. Of course your must NOT have weak passwords like "father". Your passwords must not make sense to anyone except you. A good password will contain a variety of characters. The stronger your password the harder for any person to guess it.

Summarily - if you are a lawyer, journalist or someone who thinks the govt has reason to intercept your emails - use or or are free and secure - unless of course you tell someone your password.

Telephone calls - of course if you are using a TelOne phone tapping is pretty easy here as the agents only need to put a wire from the CO (central office) this is an exchange that switches your calls.

Cell phones - this can be done of course with the cooperation of GSM providers who can listen to your conversation from the switches.

As you can see from above - the bill is only effective for those systems that are operated in Zimbabwe like local email, land line. And the Bill has no leverage to intercept what you post on the internet and the emails/faxes you send on the internet.

Yahoo and Gmail would be excited to hear that the agency from Zim intercepted emails from and to their servers based in Sunnyvale and Mountain View California!

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