By Jonathan Reynoso
The National Security Agency (NSA) helped its counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain to intercept and store millions of images from webchats of users not committing any crime, a new leak reveals.
The Guardian reports that a classified programmed codenamed Optic Nerve dates back between 2008 and 2010 when it collected still images of Yahoo webcam users in bulk and stored them whether or not the user was an intelligence target.
The BBC weighed in on GCHQ’s justification for its actions:
“All of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operation processes rigorously support this position.”
Upon being notified of the massive image storage, Yahoo denied prior knowledge of GCHQ’s spying, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy”.
The new leak, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is eerily similar to the telescreens in George Orwell’s prophetic novel “1984” that doubled as a television and security camera.
The program used facial recognition to monitor existing targets while keeping track of new targets of interest. This eliminates the possibility of losing a target with multiple user IDs.
It was reported by The Washington Post that the FBI uses similar operations with Americans’ webcams.
“The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera - without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording - for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations,” said Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, Virginia.