GCHQ have teamed up with the NSA to spy on Yahoo webcam users

GCHQ have teamed up with the NSA to spy on Yahoo webcam users

The photographs and intimate details of millions of web users has been captured and intercepted by British spy agency GCHQ, it has been revealed.

The nefarious agency, working in conjunction with their American counterparts in the controversial snooping group – the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on millions of British Yahoo users.

Despite the fact that many of these individuals were not suspected of any wrongdoing, GCHQ collected files on users between 2008 and 2010.

Although the group has often claimed that its main purpose is to oversee the security of British government departments and maintain cyber security, the surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether the people were intelligence targets or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

There are also no laws to ensure that the details of Yahoo’s American, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian users were not stored on British databases.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material to begin with.

According to one of the GCHQ documents: “Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face. The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”

Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ’s huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA – meaning that NSA representatives can view the information too.

GCHQ claims that all of the information it stored was in compliance with the law – perhaps throwing open the question of whether the law should be changed.

Documents from the agency also lamented the fact that they were not able to extract as much information as they would like from the data they did get hold of.

One statement read: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”

The program also saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds. Of course Yahoo denied any knowledge of the GCHQ spying operation when approached by reporters.

Last year, Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.

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