NSA Helped British Intelligence Intercept, Store Yahoo Webcam Pics

If you’ve sent a “selfie” or any other photos over a webcam using your Yahoo account, your images may have been intercepted by the National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters, according to a story in the Guardian.

The NSA and GCHQ together intercepted the photo communications of millions of Internet users worldwide who were not even suspected of wrongdoing, the Guardian wrote.

Over just six months in 2008, the agencies recorded the information of more than 1.8 million Yahoo account users. In a statement, Yahoo denied any prior knowledge of the program and said the actions were “a whole new level of invasion of our users’ privacy.”

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The data collection program, called Optic Nerve, gathered millions of nude and pornographic images among the information it stored, and the GCHQ, which is not quite as technologically able as the NSA, has been working to find a way to keep the images from being seen by its staff, according to GCHQ documents that were included in the documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Optic Nerve began in 2008 as an experiment in facial recognition and methods for finding terrorists who use multiple IDs. It seems to have been still running in 2012. Rather than record a continuous feed, which would have overwhelmed the GCHQ servers, Optic Nerve was set to steal images from webcams every few minutes.

According to one of the GCHQ documents, “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.”

(Probably depends on your definition of “best,” considering all the nudie shots collected.)

British law does not require GCHQ to filter its feeds the same way the NSA is supposed to, so Optic Nerve has no way of filtering out innocent U.S. or UK citizens, according to the Guardian. Analysts were reportedly regularly shown batches of similar looking pictures.

There are supposed to be authorizations needed for targeted searches, though. The other participating “Five Eyes” nations — Australia, New Zealand and Canada — have even fewer restrictions on the use of data collected through the program.

Up to 11 percent of the images collected by Optic Nerve proved to be pornographic, according to one document: “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.”

I guess that’s why they’re called “intelligence,” drawing those evasive conclusions and all that.

Personally, I’m awfully glad that our tax money helps pay the salaries of people who are dedicated to watching and protecting our precious home-produced pornography.

It’s nice to know that in this age of unimaginable debt that our money has been wisely used to build Big Brother a computer system that amounts to an international gentleman’s club.

If it hadn’t been, our government would probably just waste our money on something stupid like national defense. …

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