British Spies Intercepted Millions of Yahoo Webcam Images

According to the documents that have been leaked by Edward J. Snowden, video webcam images had been collected by a British Intelligence Agency, many of which were sexually explicit and they were taken from millions of Yahoo users regardless of whether they were under the suspicion of any illegal activities. Optic Nerve was the code name that was given to this surveillance effort made by GCHQ or the Britain Government Communications Headquarters. Fiber-optic cable taps of agency were utilized for capturing images in bulk from webcam chats of Yahoo and they were then sent in a database belonging to GCHQ.


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As per a report, it is yet to be determined as to how much data was shared with the officials of NSA (National Security Agency) though queries of data had been rub by the British through XKeyscore, which is a search tool provided by the NSA. It was not indicated by the report whether Yahoo webcam images had also been collected by the agency from other similar services that included Microsoft’s Skype or Google Hangouts. However, it was said that the agency was trying to spy on users through the cameras in Kinect devices of Microsoft that are used in the Xbox consoles.

It is shown by documents that the GCHQ had been collecting a huge amount of webcam images because the British agency faces fewer restrictions that the NSA in the United States and it also lacks the technical means for filtering out the content of American and British citizens. In 2008, in a six month period, webcam images had been collected by the agency of over 1.8 million user accounts of Yahoo worldwide and this included the ones belonging to Americans. The collection was restricted by the British agency by saving an image every five minutes from the users’ feeds to ensure that it didn’t overwhelm its servers.

The image searches had also been restricted to so-called metadata, which is information that informs the analyst about the contents of the file such as the usernames of the senders and receivers and the time, types, date, file and duration of their webcam chat. However, analysts were able to access the content of the webcam chats of users who were surveillance targets. These analysts were allowed to view the webcam chats images similar to Yahoo identifiers of their target.

Apart from that, some experimentation had also been done by the agency with facial-recognition technology, which had been used for searching the webcam images for faces that resembled the targets of GCHQ. It was showed by one undated document that this ability had been shuttered by the agency. It wasn’t clear when this technology had surfaced and was used. It was also not apparent whether access to the images and the metadata had been provided to the NSA. In a statement on Thursday, Yahoo asserted that it wasn’t aware of this program and expressed its outrage at the published reports.

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