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Report: UK spies intercept webcam pics, nudity

Report: UK Spy Agency Stored Millions Of Yahoo Webcam Images

LONDON (AP) - Britain's signals intelligence division is stealing screenshots from hundreds of thousands of innocent Yahoo users' webcam videos, according to the Guardian newspaper, which also reported that the years-long operation has swept up a huge haul of intimate photographs.

The newspaper said GCHQ has been scooping up the sensitive images by intercepting video chats such as the kind offered by Yahoo Messenger, an effort codenamed OPTIC NERVE. It's not clear how many Yahoo users were spied on in this way. The Guardian said that in one six-month period in 2008 GCHQ intercepted the video communications of 1.8 million users, but it's possible that the program, which the Guardian says was still active in 2012, has either grown or shrunk in scope since then.

The Guardian said the documents were provided by former U.S. intelligence worker Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia after having sought temporary asylum there.

Yahoo Messenger has 75 million users worldwide, according to a recent estimate by digital analytics company comScore.

If confirmed, the Guardian's report would represent "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy," Yahoo Inc. said in a written statement. The Sunnyvale, California-based company said it was unaware of such snooping and would never condone it, calling on governments across the world to reform their surveillance practices.

Like the NSA's collection of millions of innocent people's phone, email, and credit card data, the webcam surveillance program was carried out in bulk, creating a massive database where the communications of hundreds of thousands of people could later be scanned by analysts for clues or patterns.

However, unlike the phone database, OPTIC NERVE also automatically downloaded the content of video communications - taking a screenshot from the video feed every five minutes, the Guardian said. One snippet of a leaked document published to the Guardian's website appears to show that GCHQ hoped to eventually "collect images at a faster rate," or perhaps even download all the webcam videos in their entirety.

Even at one screenshot every five minutes, material published to the Guardian's website appeared to show U.K. analysts being deluged with X-rated footage.

"It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person," another snippet of an intelligence document published said. It went on to say that an informal study had found that between 3 and 11 percent of all the images carried "undesirable nudity."

The Guardian said that OPTIC NERVE was intended at least in part to identify targets using automatic facial recognition software as they stared into their computer's webcams. But the stockpiling of sexually explicit images of ordinary people had uncomfortable echoes of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," where the authorities - operating under the aegis of "Big Brother" - fit homes with cameras to monitor the intimate details of people's home lives.

"At least Big Brother had the decency to install his own cameras," British media lawyer David Banksy said in a message posted to Twitter after the revelations broke. "We've had to buy them ourselves."

The collection of nude photographs also raise questions about potential for blackmail. America's National Security Agency has already acknowledged that half a dozen analysts have been caught trawling databases for inappropriate material on partners or love interests. Other leaked documents have revealed how U.S. and British intelligence discussed leaking embarrassing material online to blacken the reputations of their targets.

GCHQ refused to answer a series of questions about OTPIC NERVE, instead returning the same boilerplate answer it has given to reporters for months.

"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," the agency said, insisting all its work was legal, necessary, proportionate, and subject to rigorous oversight.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
quincy_maxwell February 28 2014 at 10:15 AM

Ah, too funny for those of you have not been following along. Just consider how Yahoo, MSN, FB and others sold us out. This story is not news....just another divulgence of what has been going on that is being kept from us. Consider MSN joining up with SKYPE, ( buying them out )...because of government pressures. And now that MSN has their hands on Skype, you can bet the NSA has a hand on that site as well. After all MSN wasn't one of the first to give in to the government, were they? Of course they were.
* Note: The government is working with a certain television manufacturer to find a way to put a camera in TV sets. Think about that the next time you pay your taxes and vote.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
'57mad February 27 2014 at 8:40 PM

now yahoo is selling your webcam links for extra cash.

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universalspeed February 27 2014 at 9:06 PM

Sex is how we got here... and people are appalled by it. Is this not ridiculous?

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r_porterfield February 27 2014 at 9:10 PM

Enough is enough. Our governments, UK and USA, are going over the line. This is not about safety. It's about control. They have become the terrorists. People pay taxes only to have the money go toward invading their lives. ENOUGH!! It's absolutely ABSURD!!!!

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English February 27 2014 at 9:18 PM

Look: Get used to it; because Big Brother, Little Brother, and Tattle-tale Little Sister, and overhead GPS snoops down on us at every cross-road, bi-way, and path; sits a Camera-clicking Snitch. What's next? Why not stick a micro-chip Profile pin in every nose? Ah so; Poor fish :(

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mi0916538 February 27 2014 at 9:25 PM

we're screwed. We're all screwed. Our privacy and freedom might be on their last chapter. Not only does the Pentagon now possess the ability to ruin anyone's life at a whim, but now we have to worry about foreign governments doing the same. Relying soley on government good will to protect your privacy and identity isn't a very efficient safe-guard! It was a democratic Germany that elected Hitler, in good faith, with a fair election, and look what happened in that case! It might come to the point where it becomes too dangerous to continue living on the grid. We might have to ditch the computers, and start living on a cash-only basis. Everyone who believe in personal freedom needs to stay vigilant over the coming decades!

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1 reply
Carol mi0916538 February 27 2014 at 11:53 PM

AMEN!!!

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ELIZABETH February 27 2014 at 9:40 PM

I would suggest that anyone who feels the need to do naughty things on cam, get a few rubber masks that look like high officials from England. :)

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3 replies
PoisonAero February 28 2014 at 12:11 AM

Forget blackmail, just imagine all the people who consult for companies who have had their proprietary rights intruded upon, legal clients who chat with their lawyers who have had their privileged info tapped into, members of clergy with their flock, and all the soldiers overseas whose wives and girlfriends chatted with them had their privacy violated. And yes, there IS an expectation of privacy. Then again, if you can think that someone can hack you and be privy to everything you say, then they probably are. If not the government, then some tabloid or other "media" outlet. It is unfortunate that government is in every conversation except those done person to person anymore.

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teamcorsairbots February 28 2014 at 12:26 AM

How do you not get webcam photos from Yahoo stolen by UK spies? Don't put up videos on Yahoo. Or better yet, don't put up scandalous videos anywhere.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
frozenbull teamcorsairbots February 28 2014 at 5:21 AM

That takes too much common sense . Something many people lack these days

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Little Savage February 28 2014 at 12:50 AM

Orwell was an optimist.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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