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Nude Images on Yahoo Webcam Chats Harvested by UK Intelligence

Image: Nude Images on Yahoo Webcam Chats Harvested by UK Intelligence

Friday, 28 Feb 2014 09:19 AM

By Michael Mullins

Spies from the United Kingdom's surveillance agency GCHQ have reportedly harvested at least 1.8 million images from the computers of ordinary people from around the world over a two-year period using Yahoo webcam chats under the surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve.

The disclosure was reportedly the latest leak from information leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that in one six-month period in 2008, more than 1.8 million Yahoo users had images stolen from their accounts by the GCHQ. The program ran from 2008 through 2010.

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Among the images harvested by the spy agency were a significant number of pornographic still shots involving Yahoo users who would apparently upload lewd images of themselves to others through the video sharing software.

In its assessment of the material, the GCHQ wrote in a document released by Snowden that: "Unfortunately, there are issues with undesirable images within the data."

"It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person," the agency wrote. "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."

A random sampling of 323 images harvested by the British spy agency found that approximately 7 percent "contained undesirable nudity."

Yahoo reacted to the Orwellian-like collection of images from private citizens across the globe, telling the Agence France-Presse that the company was "not aware of nor would we condone this reported activity."

"This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable," the Yahoo spokesman continued in a statement to AFP. "We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."

A similar expression of outrage came from several U.S. senators, considering a significant number of the images were likely from American users.

"We are extremely troubled by today's press report that a very large number of individuals, including law-abiding Americans, may have had private videos of themselves and their families intercepted and stored without any suspicion of wrongdoing," Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich said in a joint statement, the AFP reported.

"If this report is accurate, it would show a breathtaking lack of respect for the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens," the statement added. "It is becoming clearer and clearer that more needs to be done to ensure that 'foreign' intelligence collection does not intrude unnecessarily on the rights of law-abiding people or needlessly undermine the competitiveness of America's leading industries."

In response to the outrage, the GCHQ insisted that all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law, the Guardian reported.

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