Peeping Webcam? With NSA Help, British Spy Agency Intercepted Millions of Yahoo Chat Images

28.02.2014 - Democracy Now!

Peeping Webcam? With NSA Help, British Spy Agency Intercepted Millions of Yahoo Chat Images
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By Amy Goodman for Democracy Now!

The latest top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) may have peered into the lives of millions of Internet users who were not suspected of wrongdoing. The surveillance program codenamed “Optic Nerve” compiled still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and stored them in the GCHQ’s databases with help from the NSA. In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency reportedly amassed webcam images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts worldwide. According to the documents, between 3 and 11 percent of the Yahoo webcam images contained what the GCHQ called “undesirable nudity.” The program was reportedly also used for experiments in “automated facial recognition” as well as to monitor terrorism suspects. We speak with James Ball, one of the reporters who broke the story. He is the special projects editor for Guardian US.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report based on top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveals the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, may have peered into the lives of millions of Internet users who were not suspected of wrongdoing. A surveillance program codenamed “Optic Nerve” compiled still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and stored them in GCHQ’s databases with help from the NSA. In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency reportedly amassed webcam images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts worldwide.

The program was reportedly used for experiments in “automated facial recognition” as well as to monitor terrorism suspects. A more accurate name for the “Optic Nerve” program may have been “Peeping Tom,” because it ended up collecting a large number of sexually explicit images. According to the documents, between 3 and 11 percent of the Yahoo webcam images contained what the GCHQ called “undesirable nudity.” Yahoo responded to the news by denying any prior knowledge of the program, saying the spy agencies had, quote, “reached a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.”

The documents also reveal the surveillance agencies discussed intercepting other types of cameras, such as the ones found on Xbox 360 game consoles. The NSA and the GCHQ also reportedly considered designing more sophisticated and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras.

For more, we’re joined now by one of the two reporters who broke the story, James Ball. He is the special projects editor for Guardian US. The article he co-wrote with Spencer Ackerman is called “Yahoo Webcam Images from Millions of Users Intercepted by GCHQ.”

See the original article for the Full Transcript

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