New documents show that images taken by 1.8m people’s webcams were intercepted and stored by the UK’s security agency GCHQ between 2008 and 2010.
Using Yahoo accounts as an in, the Optic Nerve program reportedly collected the still images of millions of people not even suspected of any kind of crime.
The system collected one image every five minutes and, if you were unlucky enough to be using a username similar to that of one of GCHQ’s targets, then your face may have been shown to analysts and agency staff.
Yahoo has vehemently denied any knowledge of the webcam interception, describing the activity as "a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy."
An internal GCHQ wiki page shows that the program was still active in 2012, and was supposedly conceived to experiment in facial recognition, monitor existing suspects and determine new targets.
"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," one of the leaked documents reads. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."
Of course, the GCHQ quickly learned that people don’t always use webcams for face-to-face chats. One document noted that "unfortunately… it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person."
Yes, "surprising". But not as surprising as learning that the kinky private webcam sex session you enjoyed four years ago was potentially pored over by the suits at GCHQ, we’ll wager.
For its part, GCHQ reiterated that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters, adding that "all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal… framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate."
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