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GCHQ screencapped Yahoo customer nude webcam chats

Unfortunately we now live in a world where government intelligence agencies like the NSA, GCHQ, the GCSB and more are perfectly within their (pseudo) legal rights to record data from our phones and internet connections on the off chance that we might be a terrorist. Apparently it goes far further than that though, as not only have they hoarded metadata on who we’ve been calling, but GCHQ has actually been screencapping images from the public’s webcams and it’s been doing it for years.

The intelligence agency was able to do this, thanks to a special piece of software known as Optic Nerve, which would grab an image from active Yahoo webcam chats every five minutes. It did this on a huge scale too, with one six month period in 2008, netting images of over 1.8 million Yahoo customers.

The face of every GCHQ voyeur when they heard this news

The idea behind it was to (supposedly) test facial recognition systems that could identify terrorists and thereby warn of future attacks or plans. Instead what happened, was GCHQ collected millions of images of Yahoo customers, many of them – as you might expect – involved nudity, as Optic Nerve made no differentiation between someone discussing bomb making and those quite clearly have cam sex with one another. Even worse though, is that in Snowden revealed documents that broke this story, it’s also been revealed that GCHQ staff were regularly found looking through the images like it was their own personal porn collection.

There’s a reason this building looks like a three armed Goatse photo

GCHQ did go to efforts to try and stop this, by initially limiting staff access to metadata only. However, it eventually also permitted the looking at images of those with “similar Yahoo identifiers” to terrorist suspects and with those that looked similar. So if your username or face was anything like a terrorists, you may have ended up on the GCHQ radar. There’s also a worrying potential for these images to have been shared outside of GCHQ, as the organisation also published a “reminder,” that any staff found disseminating nude images would be disciplined.

Unlike countries like the US, which have some legal safeguards for citizens making it harder for intelligence agencies to target them with surveillance, there is much less protection for British civilians. However thanks to information sharing with the NSA, anything that couldn’t be viewed or investigated here, could be passed over and checked there instead. Images were known to be shared for these purposes, as well as for the creation of the NSA’s XKeyScore tool.

Understandably, Yahoo has come out very strongly against this news, suggesting it had no involvement and condemning the actions of all intelligence agencies involved: “We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” said a spokesperson to The Guardian. “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.”

KitGuru Says: Beyond the absolutely horrific privacy invasions at work here, it would be very interesting indeed to look into what images GCHQ does have stored. I can guarantee there’s some images on there which would get anyone else arrested for owning (and maybe even producing) child pornography.  

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