British Surveillance Agency GCHQ Bulk Collects, Stores Yahoo Webcam Images
February 27, 2014 6:46 PM
About 3 percent to 11 percent of images contained nudity or other graphic images
Attention Yahoo users: Britain's surveillance agency might've taken stills of your webcam sessions and stored them in databases.
According to a new report from
, British surveillance agency GCHQ collected millions of webcam images in bulk from Yahoo users and stored them in databases under a program dubbed "Optic Nerve." The program reportedly ran from 2008 to 2010, but was still active in 2012.
The information was provided by documents from former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
Optic Nerve reportedly started out as a prototype in 2008. During a six-month period in that year alone, GCHQ intercepted 1.8 million Yahoo users' communication.
said about 3 percent to 11 percent of the Yahoo webcam stills caught by GCHQ contained nudity and other graphic or inappropriate content.
The report further stated that the webcam users were not being targeted for any particular reason. Many were caught in a net of bulk collection, because GCHQ said that Yahoo webcam was a service often frequented by GCHQ's suspects and targets.
The documents also show that
tested automatic searches based on facial recognition technology as a way to find people resembling current GCHQ targets.
Yahoo was upset by the discovery, saying that it had no idea GCHQ was accessing communications and imagery between its webcam users.
"We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity," said a Yahoo spokeswoman. "This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.
"We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."
GCHQ, on the other hand, denied that it did anything wrong. It said its actions are watched very closely by overheads.
"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," said GCHQ in a statement. "Furthermore, all of
's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.
"All our operational processes rigorously support this position."
It was reported that the
NSA aided GCHQ
in Optic Nerve, but the NSA said it never asked foreign partners to collect information that it couldn't legally collect itself.
"As we've said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself," said
spokeswoman Vanee Vines. "The
works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.
"A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons."
Back in December 2013, it was reported that GCHQ and the NSA teamed up to
spy on the virtual worlds
of the Xbox Live network, World of Warcraft, and Second Life to find acts of terrorism. That information was contained in an NSA document from 2008 titled "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments."
The two also
and mobile games like "Angry Birds" and "Candy Crush" to spy on users.
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