A British spy agency collected millions of still images while eavesdropping on Yahoo webcam chats by citizens of the U.K., the U.S. and other countries, according to a new report Thursday.
Citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the *Guardian *reports that the British program known as “Optic Nerve” was designed to test and improve the agency’s facial recognition software capabilities. According to the documents, the British spy agency GCHQ snooped on “unselected” Yahoo users—that is, people who were spied on at random regardless of whether or not they were suspected of any wrongdoing—during webcam chats and took millions of still shots at five-minute intervals. The GCHQ does not have the technical capability to ensure that no images of British or American citizens were included in the bulk collection, the *Guardian *reports, and proper legal authorization is required for GCHQ to conduct data searches on people likely to be in the U.K. at the time.
In sorting through the massive amount of information it collected starting in 2008, when Optic Nerve first launched as a prototype program, U.K. spies were met with an explicit challenge: pornography
“Unfortunately, it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one document leaked by Snowden says. “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.” … Read more.