Report: UK spies intercept webcam pics, nudity

Feb 27 2014, 1:56pm CST | by

LONDON (AP) — Britain's signals intelligence division is stealing screenshots from hundreds of thousands of innocent Yahoo users' webcam videos, according to the Guardian newspaper, which also reported that the years-long operation has swept up a huge haul of intimate photographs.

The newspaper said GCHQ has been scooping up the sensitive images by intercepting video chats such as the kind offered by Yahoo Messenger, an effort codenamed OPTIC NERVE. It's not clear how many Yahoo users were spied on in this way. The Guardian said that in one six-month period in 2008 GCHQ intercepted the video communications of 1.8 million users, but it's possible that the program, which the Guardian says was still active in 2012, has either grown or shrunk in scope since then.

The Guardian said the documents were provided by former U.S. intelligence worker Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia after having sought temporary asylum there.

Yahoo Messenger has 75 million users worldwide, according to a recent estimate by digital analytics company comScore.

If confirmed, the Guardian's report would represent "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy," Yahoo Inc. said in a written statement. The Sunnyvale, California-based company said it was unaware of such snooping and would never condone it, calling on governments across the world to reform their surveillance practices.

Like the NSA's collection of millions of innocent people's phone, email, and credit card data, the webcam surveillance program was carried out in bulk, creating a massive database where the communications of hundreds of thousands of people could later be scanned by analysts for clues or patterns.

However, unlike the phone database, OPTIC NERVE also automatically downloaded the content of video communications — taking a screenshot from the video feed every five minutes, the Guardian said. One snippet of a leaked document published to the Guardian's website appears to show that GCHQ hoped to eventually "collect images at a faster rate," or perhaps even download all the webcam videos in their entirety.

Even at one screenshot every five minutes, material published to the Guardian's website appeared to show U.K. analysts being deluged with X-rated footage.

"It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person," another snippet of an intelligence document published said. It went on to say that an informal study had found that between 3 and 11 percent of all the images carried "undesirable nudity."

The Guardian said that OPTIC NERVE was intended at least in part to identify targets using automatic facial recognition software as they stared into their computer's webcams. But the stockpiling of sexually explicit images of ordinary people had uncomfortable echoes of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," where the authorities — operating under the aegis of "Big Brother" — fit homes with cameras to monitor the intimate details of people's home lives.

"At least Big Brother had the decency to install his own cameras," British media lawyer David Banksy said in a message posted to Twitter after the revelations broke. "We've had to buy them ourselves."

The collection of nude photographs also raise questions about potential for blackmail. America's National Security Agency has already acknowledged that half a dozen analysts have been caught trawling databases for inappropriate material on partners or love interests. Other leaked documents have revealed how U.S. and British intelligence discussed leaking embarrassing material online to blacken the reputations of their targets.

GCHQ refused to answer a series of questions about OTPIC NERVE, instead returning the same boilerplate answer it has given to reporters for months.

"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," the agency said, insisting all its work was legal, necessary, proportionate, and subject to rigorous oversight.

___

Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Source: AP Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Associated Press</a>
The Associated Press (AP) is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Nigerian opposition criticise government for currency devaluation
Abuja, Nov 27 (IANS) The All Progressives Congress(APC), Nigeria's main opposition party, Wednesday criticised the government for its move to devalue the country's currency naira.
 
 
Britain deploys military helicopters to aid for Ebola-hit Sierra Leone
London, Nov 27 (IANS) Britain has deployed Royal Navy helicopters to deliver materials to northern Sierra Leone as the part of its ongoing efforts to tackle Ebola, the British Department for International Development (DFID) said Wednesday.
 
 
Pakistan blocks three Saarc connectivity pacts; Modi, Sharif avoid meeting (Intro Roundup)
Kathmandu, Nov 26 (IANS) Pakistan Wednesday played spoilsport by blocking three major Saarc connectivity projects initiated by India, even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conspicuously avoided meeting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif while he met five other South Asian leaders here.
 
 
Way out of debt crisis far from easy: Angela Merkel
Berlin, Nov 26 (IANS) German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday said the way out of the European debt crisis is long and far from easy.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

15 wins in a row great achievement: Ancelotti
Geneva, Nov 27 (IANS) Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has called Real Madrid's 15th straight victory "a great achievement" and said he expected Basel to advance in the Champions League. Real defeated Basel 1-0...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
41 prisoners flee Venezuela jail
Caracas, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) A total of 41 alleged criminals fled Wednesday morning from a jail in the central Venezuelan city of Los Teques in Miranda state. "According to preliminary information, around 2 a.m....
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Taxes may keep Jolie from buying British property
London, Nov 27 (IANS) Actress Angelina Jolie, who has been considering buying property in Britain, says the proposed 'mansion tax' could prevent her from doing so. The actress is a regular visitor to Britain due to...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Nigerian opposition criticise government for currency devaluation
Abuja, Nov 27 (IANS) The All Progressives Congress(APC), Nigeria's main opposition party, Wednesday criticised the government for its move to devalue the country's currency naira. ]The party objected that the policy...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey to spend Christmas together
Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey will spend Christmas together. The couple, who married in 2008, announced their separation earlier this year, but Nick has confirmed that won't stop him spending the festive season with his...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Yasmany Tomas Agrees to 6-Year, $68.5M Deal With Arizona Diamondbacks
Yasmany Tomas has agreed to a mega-deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.The Cuban outfielder came to terms with the D-backs on a six-year, $68.5 million contract, per MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez:"Cuban outfielder Yasmany...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Johnny Depp feels 'like a fugitive'
Johnny Depp lives ''like a fugitive''. The Hollywood icon is among the most photographed people in the world, but insists he craves a more quiet life. Johnny, 51, said: ''I'm f*****g shy man. ''I'm living, in a sense,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Scott Disick says he hasn't slept with Kourtney Kardashian 'in five years'
Scott Disick has claimed he and Kourtney Kardashian ''haven't slept together in five years''. The 31-year-old reality TV star made the strange statement during a new episode of 'Kourtney And Khloe Take The Hamptons',...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kendra Wilkinson cries over Hank Baskett's 'severe depression'
Kendra Wilkinson was reduced to tears because of her husband Hank Baskett's ''severe depression''. The 29-year-old beauty, who married Hank in 2009 and has two children with the former American football star - Hank,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Jolie spotted smoking post fight with Pitt
Sydney, Nov 27 (IANS) Actress Angelina Jolie was spotted smoking a cigarette on a hotel balcony here reportedly after she and her husband Brad Pitt engaged in a heated argument. According to weekly magazine In Touch,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla