A recent report detected several government agencies using Circles’ platforms to snoop on texts, calls and locate private individuals.
As internet penetration and smartphone usage increases across Africa, digital spaces have become increasingly important in organising opposition movements.
In response, several governments have at times shut down the internet or blocked social media apps.
More recently, however, some regimes have turned to digital surveillance technology for more subtle ways to crush resistance.
With the faster and possibly more secure 4G networks years away from becoming the standard for mobile connectivity in Africa, Circles technology is ideal for power-hungry African leaders looking to spy on critics.
Indeed, of the 25 countries identified as likely to be using Circles’ tools, seven are on the continent.
Three Circles platforms were detected in Zimbabwe. The use of one dates back to 2013, while another was activated in March 2018.
The Zimbabwean government has long targeted its critics and opponents.
Last year, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume were detained ahead of anti-government protests. Circles technology may be facilitating this repression.
Other countries are Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Botswana, Zambia and Kenya.
According to some analysts, the sale of spying equipment is in fact an important part of Israel’s diplomatic charm offensive in Africa.
Tel Aviv has been forging closer partnerships with governments on the continent in recent years in the hope of diminishing African solidarity with Palestine and gaining supportive votes in the UN.
Helping rulers stay in power – even at the cost of widespread popular freedoms – is one way to make friends.