British Agency Intercepted Millions of Yahoo Webcam Images of Users

A British Spy Agency intercepted video webcam streams of millions of Yahoo webcam chat users across the world.

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Image by Yahoo

According to a report from Guardian, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) collected still images from video chats of Yahoo webcam users under a program named Optic Nerve. The report is based on documents available with the Guardian provided by Edward Snowden.

According to the report, the British Government agency collected still images of more than 1.8 million Yahoo video chat users under the Optic Never program. Most of the users spied on had no suspicion of wrongdoing at the time of interception of their video chats.

The main purpose of this controversial program was to capture users faces and build a database for search of terror criminals and suspects. The Guardian quotes one of the documents of GCHQ as saying:

“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. The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”

However, many of the images were not just of faces. According to the report up to 11% pictures grabbed such had “undesirable nudity.” One of the document says:

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

The report says that these images were collected with aid from U.S National Security Agency.

Yahoo said that it was not aware of any such program and does not condone this:

“This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent,” a statement from Yahoo says.

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