There appears to be something of an arms race going on between the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, and the arms in question appear to be who can violate the most people's rights in the creepiest manner possible. While the revelations about the NSA have been met mostly with an infuriating series of shrugs from the American public, GCHQ has been hard at work in the realm of dirty tricks, DDoS attacks, and their smear campaigns against anyone they don't like. It's one of those agencies that cause many to question exactly who they see as the enemy, given how many downright dastardly actions the agency takes against its own country's citizens.
Well, if this latest report is correct, GCHQ may not see British citizens as the enemy so much as it sees them as its own personal playthings. I'm not sure what else to take away from reports that GCHQ intercepted and viewed Yahoo webcam images in bulk.
GCHQ files dating 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. 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.
Forget the silly theater employed by America's TSA, British intelligence actually employed the surrepticious collection of nudie images of their own citizens. If I were a British citizen, I wouldn't know whether to be exponentially more self-conscious or disappointed that I hadn't put on what I can assure you would be one hell of a naked show for these privacy-invading bastards. Yahoo, understandably, is pissed
, indicating that it had no knowledge of this program and that this is an entirely new level of violating its customers' privacy.
Now, if this attempt to realize the fictional telescreens in Orwell's 1984
seems to have an exreme potential for abuse, you probably don't even know the half of it.
The agency did make efforts to limit analysts' ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only. However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".
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. Webcam information was fed into NSA's XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo's webcam traffic.
What does this mean? Two things. First, there is no safeguard keeping images of America citizens out of the grasp of Optic Nerve
. Second, this isn't just GCHQ, it's the NSA, too. They're also holding onto and using these images, which certainly include British citizens and likely include American citizens as well. Let's not mince words: the cooperation between the two agencies likely means that the NSA has webcam images of American citizens in their storage houses. And some of those images probably include naked Americans. If that
doesn't scare the hell out of you, nothing will.
Now, GCHQ boldly attempted to address the issue by building a facial recognition component that excluded images that didn't include a face. You should already see the inherent problem in this: any private communication that may include nudity and
a face would still be snared. Plus the technology, to put it mildly, barely works. And, on top of all this, this somehow came as a surprise to GCHQ.
Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: "Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
Oh, yeah, what a shock that people would use video communciation in a way that included nudity. Nevermind that the first thought that proceeds any technological advancement in the hisotry of mankind involves a form of the question, "How can we use this to see more nudity!?!?" It may seem like a small point, but do we really want to trust an agency that doesn't realize how personal our communications are in collecting those same personal communications? No thanks.
The question has always been when will that final straw have been placed on the peoples' backs such that they are unwilling to put up with this government abuse any longer. If the government peeking into your homes through your webcam doesn't do it, nothing will.