In six months, British intelligence GCHQ intercepted webcam images of 1.8 million Yahoo users, new Snowden documents show. The service estimates that a maximum of 11 percent were nude images.
As part of a project called Optic Nerve, the GCHQ managed to capture images of Yahoo users’ webcam feeds on a massive scale every five minutes. In documents, the service expresses the desire to collect images more quickly. The reason for the five-minute interval would be to comply with human rights law and not to overload the servers, The Guardian writes, based on the Snowden documents.
Optic Nerve would use a web interface to tap the webcam feeds and the systems would often be untargeted, so not always targets in the context of investigations. Optic Nerve would have started in 2008 as a test, but are still active in 2012. The GCHQ experimented with facial recognition on a large scale while also using the tool to monitor existing targets and find new ones.
Between 3 percent and 11 percent of the intercepted images would have been nude photos, with outright porn streams also being intercepted in a few cases. The service would not have removed these ‘undesirable results’, but it would have ensured that images that did not recognize faces could not be found in the search results. However, this system would not work flawlessly, the espionage service itself admitted. Also, analysts would only get metadata as a result if they searched the databases for images on a large scale.
Yahoo calls the practice unacceptable if the claims are authentic. The GCHQ is also said to be interested in the Xbox 360 Kinect camera, as well as experimenting with iris scanning cameras. However, The Guardian gives few details about this.