UK spy agency collected Yahoo webcam images, report claims

The U.K.’s GCHQ spy agency reportedly collected millions of Yahoo webcam images from around the world, according to documents published by The Guardian on Thursday.

According to The Guardian, the secret files show that GCHQ had a program called Optic Nerve that ran from 2008 to 2010. The program took still images of Yahoo webcam chat videos and saved them.

The files show that during a six-month period in 2008, GCHQ collected 1.8 million users’ images from around the world, including sexually graphic stills. That particularly disappointed the agency.

“Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one document read. “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.”

The agency tried to limit analysts from seeing users’ faces, although they could see anyone who happened to share a similar username with a target.

The BBC reports that Yahoo said in a statement that it was not aware of the program. If it’s true, the program “represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable,” the company said.

“We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services,” Yahoo added.

As for GCHQ, the agency told the BBC that its “work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight” from the government.

The documents were among those leaked by Edward Snowden.

image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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