The Grauniad reports that, according to the Snowden documents, the GCHQ has been naughty indeed, tapping into webcam chats and saving images in bulk.
Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.While this might reveal I possess an unhealthy amount of cynism regarding our elected luminaries, bastions of integrity and guardians of democracy (unhealthily spying-obsessed) politicians and their valuable and noble underlings (spymasters), I fail to see how collecting large amounts of images of random people keeps us safe from terrorists. I do, however, suspect that this is a really good way to obtain kompromat to be saved in case a person snagged up in the surveillance network ever turns out to be in need of discrediting.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally. [emphasis mine]
Seriously, read the whole thing. In my view, there are two lessons to be learnt from this: (i) Internet use is pretty much becoming a black-tie event, and (ii) cybersex is probably a really bad idea, if you care about third parties sneaking a peek.
Okay, the system is supposed to be used for facial recognition of terrorism suspects and criminals:
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell's 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ's existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.But there's got to be a better way to track them than this, particularly because of a very obvious problem, which anyone who's ever surfed the internet with safe search turned off can immediately think of:
The documents also chronicle GCHQ's sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place. emphasis mineI know that the following truism holds:
While it could be argued that the fact that the spooks might decide to ogle me could be considered a compliment on my appearance, I think they should pay for or torrent their porn, just like the rest of us.