Botswana Police use Israeli Cellebrite Tech to Search Another Journalist’s Phone | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Botswana Police use Israeli Cellebrite Tech to Search Another Journalist’s Phone

Tsaone Basimanebotlhe was not expecting security agents to appear at her home in a village outside Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, in July 2019, she told CPJ in a recent interview. But they didn’t come to arrest or charge her, she recalled – they came for her devices, hunting for the source for an article published by her employer, Mmegi newspaper.

Basimanebotlhe, a politics reporter, said she surrendered her phone and password to the agents after they presented a warrant and could not find her computer. A senior officer then used technology sold by the Israel-based company Cellebrite to extract and analyze thousands of her messages, call logs, and emails, and her web browsing history, according to an affidavit from the police forensics laboratory.

The affidavit, which CPJ reviewed, was submitted during a related court case.“They’re looking for people that are divulging information to the media,” Basimanebotlhe told CPJ.

Botswana police also deployed Cellebrite technology to search the phone of Oratile Dikologang, a local editor charged in 2020 over Facebook posts who alleged that police violently interrogated him about his sources, as CPJ recently reported.

The use of powerful tools provided by private companies to scour seized devices raises significant concerns over privacy and press freedom. The experiences of Basimanebotlhe and Dikologang demonstrate that police in Botswana use digital forensics equipment to sweep up vast quantities of journalists’ communications from seized devices, regardless of whether they are charged with a crime.

The extent of these searches was only revealed when police documents were submitted in court months after the fact, and it’s not clear what happened to the data.

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