Originally published March 24 2014
Government spies covertly capture sexually explicit images using webcams
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Indiscriminate spying is not just the arena of the National Security Agency (NSA), though the super-spy wing of the U.S. government is certainly involved in many things.
Now comes news that the GCHQ, the surveillance agency of the British government -- with NSA assistance -- has intercepted and then stored millions of internet users' webcam images, even though they were never under suspicion for anything, secret documents have revealed.
As reported by London's Guardian newspaper -- the same paper that broke the initial story of widespread, rampant and global NSA spying last year based on evidence provided by former NSA intelligence analyst contractor Edward Snowden -- GCHQ files that date back to between 2008 and 2010 "explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not."
Further, the paper reported:
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.
Part of the 'Five Eyes' network
The web-based media company responded with fury at revelations of webcam interception after being approached about the findings regarding the secretive operation. Yahoo officials said they had no prior knowledge of the program and accused the spy agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy."
The Guardian reported that the British agency has no technical means to ensure that no images of UK or U.S. citizens are collected and then stored by the system. Also, the paper said there are no restrictions under UK law to even prevent images of Americans from being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.
Further, as Natural News found in its own investigation of Optic Nerve, the U.S. and UK governments -- along with Australia, New Zealand and Canada -- are part of the "Five Eyes" partnership, which grew out of World War II and in which the member nations share signals intelligence (SIGNINT), in part (at least in the case of the U.S.) as a way to skirt domestic laws barring unwarranted spying.
The secret documents, provided to The Guardian by Snowden, also detail how GCHQ struggled to prevent members of its own staff from accessing the large store of sexually explicit materials.
The operation became active in 2008 and remained so at least until 2012, according to reports.
Per The Guardian:
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell's 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ's existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.
Large number of innocents exposed
Instead of collecting entire webcam chats, the program saved only one image every five minutes from users' web feeds, in part to comply with human rights legislation, but also to avoid overloading GCHQ's servers. The Snowden-provided documents described those users as "unselected" -- intelligence agency lingo for bulk, rather than targeted, collection.
One document even likened the program's "bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events" to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals, the paper said.
"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," says the document, according to The Guardian. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."
Apparently, there was an effort to limit intelligence analysts' ability to see webcam images; bulk searches were limited to metadata only.
Nevertheless, analysts were shown faces of anyone who had a similar username as surveillance targets, which left open the potential for exposing large numbers of innocent people.
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