UK spies oogled millions of kinky web cam chat sessions

medium_3502077895It’s been quite a few weeks since the last, really shocking NSA revelation. But if you thought that there was nothing else to learn about the madness our nation and our allies’ spies have been getting up to, you were wrong. Very wrong.

A new leak has just emerged via The Guardian newspaper, and shows how the British GCHQ – their equivalent of the NSA – ran a secret program called “Optic Nerve” from 2008 to 2012 with the goal of capturing web cam images from millions of internet users. Documents obtained by Ed Snowden show that the GCHQ grabbed the private images of more than 1.8 million Yahoo users – in just one-six month period in 2008. The Guardian adds that the haul included (not surprisingly) “substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications”. And the NSA lent a helping hand in all of this.

The purported ‘aim’ of the program wasn’t to feed the kinky fetishes of GCHQ operatives. Rather, Optic Nerve was designed to test out new facial recognition software, and to gather intel on terrorist suspects who attemptto remain anonymous online by using aliases. Unfortunately the program also seems to be highly illegal, as GCHQ’s facial recognition software couldn’t even tell apart UK citizens from foreigners, and UK law prevents this kind of spying if the persons concerned are located within the country. The only good thing in all of this is that GCHQ didn’t capture full sessions – instead, it would just grab one image every five minutes “to comply with human rights legislation, and to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers”, reports The Guardian.

But what about all the naughty, naked photos that GCHQ inadvertently scooped up? According to the documents, the agency was actually overwhelmed with kinky images – as much as 11 percent of the Yahoo images were of a saucy nature – and it didn’t really know what to do with it all. However, GCHQ did at least put some restrictions on its operatives, telling them to analyze the metadata of each image only, rather than the, err, visual aspects. Whether they actually complied with this instruction or not, no one knows…

What’s more surprising though, is that GCHQ claimed to be ‘surprised’ at the amount of explicit material it obtained.

From The Guardian:

“Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “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.”

Really? Did they seriously not realize that large numbers of people might occasionally use technology in this way, to satisfy certain natural urges that we all have? Seriously, it might be a small point, but one has to wonder just how competent our spy agencies really are, if they find this kind of behavior “surprising”.

Sometimes, one has to wonder just how much abuse of our privacy people will put up with. Will there ever be a final straw placed on the camel’s back that forces people to turn around and say “no more!?” Or have we all become so compliant now that we just sit back and allow the government to peek into our homes through our web cameras without even so much as murmur of resistance?

photo credit: o0_tragic_rabbit_0o via photopin cc

About Mike Wheatley

Mike Wheatley is a senior staff writer at SiliconANGLE. He loves to write about Big Data and the Internet of Things, and explore how these technologies are evolving within the enterprise and helping businesses to become more agile. Before joining SiliconANGLE, Mike was an editor at Argophilia Travel News, an occassional contributer to The Epoch Times, and has also dabbled in SEO and social media marketing. He usually bases himself in Bangkok, Thailand, though he can often be found roaming through the jungles or chilling on a beach. Got a news story or tip? Email Mike@SiliconANGLE.com.