Orwellian: UK government, with aid from US NSA, intercepted webcam images from millions of users

“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,” Spencer Ackerman and James Ball report for The Guardian. “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,” Ackerman and Ball report. “Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of ‘a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.'”

We were 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, and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December. We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services. – Yahoo spokesperson

“GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant,” Ackerman and Ball report. “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.”

“Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year,” Ackerman and Ball report. “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.”

GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law,” Ackerman and Ball report. “The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens’ data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs. However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. – Ronald Reagan, March 30, 1961

Visit the Apple-backed reformgovernmentsurveillance.com today.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “David G.” for the heads up.]

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    1. not to give your least favorite messiah a pass on this, by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn’t start this sinister foolishness – we can look to W , dick cheney and their ilk for that, but he has surely done nothing to curtail it either. and of course he won’t either.

      beginning to look like it is time to blind the cyclops. mr. apple and every other entity need to start coding some ironclad security protocols. they have the money and the talent.

      governments and their intelligence agencies have overstepped their bounds and authority, and are betraying rights guaranteed to us under our constitution. they have forfeited the moral high ground on this. and, i fear, our trust. benjamin franklin had it right.

      what a sad state of affairs. this used to be a pretty good country, certainly not perfect, but one we could legitimately be proud of. not any more. their empire is slipping away and those in power are clawing away our rights and heritage in order to preserve their wealth and privilege.

      1. “…mr. apple and every other entity need to start coding some ironclad security protocols. they have the money and the talent…”

        If  came out with spookproof iPhone today, it would destroy Samsung’s cel phone business within months.

        1. Sadly, if Apple had a spook proof phone, they would come under attack as unpatriotic and an enemy of state for potentially aiding terrorists by providing secure communications avenue for them.

      2. Not to burst your W. is responsible for everything wrong in the world bubble or anything, but it goes back to the Clinton Administration, and so on, when the NY Times went so far as to give Clinton a pass, all but congratulating him on domestic spying. Circa 1999. To be completely honest, domestic spying by the government has gone on since they realized they could intercept and read pony express correspondence and tap telegraph lines.
        NY Times: ‘Illegal’ Spying OK Under Clinton
        NEWSMAX ^ | 01/12/2006 | Carl Limbacher

        Last month, when the New York Times revealed to the world that the Bush administration had a top secret National Security Agency program that monitored communications between al Qaeda terrorists and their U.S.-based agents, it strongly condemned the operation as a dangerous and possibly illegal invasion of privacy.

        However, the Old Gray Lady wasn’t nearly as upset over a much broader surveillance program under the Clinton administration, which routinely monitored millions of phone calls between U.S. citizens without a court ordered warrant.

        In fact, the paper called the blanket invasion of privacy a “necessity” – even though it was carried out without the justification provided by the 9/11 attacks.

        The American Thinker web site has unearthed Times quotes from 1999, when the paper was reacting to reports on the NSA’s Echelon project under Bill Clinton, which randomly trolled U.S. telecommunications looking for trouble.

        “Few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon to apprehend foreign spies, drug traffickers and terrorists,” the Times explained helpfully.

        The same report quoted an NSA official assuring Times readers “that all Agency activities are conducted in accordance with the highest constitutional, legal and ethical standards.”

        These days, however, the Old Gray Lady doesn’t like to talk about Echelon. In the dozens of stories on the Bush NSA operation since reporter James Risen “broke” the story on December 16, the Times has mentioned the older NSA program only once.

        In a December 22 report by Timesman Scott Shane, the paper dismissed “reports on an agency program called Echelon [asserting] that the agency and its counterparts in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia somehow intercepted all world communications,” calling such claims “exaggerated.”

        1. Not to burst anyone’s “good old days” bubble, but America’s founding enshrined white supremacy and much of the country’s infrastructure was built on the backs of slaves. Oppression of political dissent has a long history.
          Take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO
          Basically, Obama’s just continuing the trend of America’s corporate-fascism. The two major parties are playing citizens off against each other by saying “corporations are bad” or “No! Big government is bad!”
          Reminds me of the Simpsons episode (Treehouse of Horror VII) with the two aliens running for President. Even once they were exposed as planning to conquer and enslave everyone, people were like “Vote third party? I don’t want to throw my vote away!” After the election, while in chains, Homer said “Don’t blame me – I voted for Kodos.”
          Most Americans pretty much fall into that mindset. They know the two big parties are largely working together when it comes to screwing everyone who isn’t rich, but get duped into supporting one or the other.
          Do something crazy next time – vote Green Party or some other group.
          And, in the meantime, take other protest actions. Elections alone won’t change anything. Politicians need to feel pressure from the people.

    2. Who was the President in 2008? But I here you, in fact, I think we should stop all development of this technology and trust that Russia and China will do the same. Additionally, I suspect that sneaking a peak at Botvinnik would subject the observer to to a punishment more than equal to the crime.

      1. Come on, you are dealing with American “I need my ego fed” citizens of a terrorist nation that are totally brainwashed without a rinse. Heck most of them value “American security” over “Global Security” that’s how self centered and xenophobic they have become. It’s pathetic but to be expected of a crumbling paranoid empire.

          1. Most people like their country. Remember pride is OK but presumptuous arrogance is a bad and very typical American state. I’ll stick to my country thank you very much. We don’t torture people here. Good luck, trying to return to a civilized level of behavior. REALLY good luck continuing your depraved path. It will be about the only thing you’ll have left.

  1. This more than anything else shows how out of control this has become. The UK needs legislation NOW that defines exactly what GCHQ can and cannot do. I’m sick to death of politicians telling us that there are controls in place and everything is under judicial overview. That is clearly NOT the case!!

  2. What a topsy-turvy World. Europeans revolt to get rid of totalitarian systems and out of control security services (from the East Germans who dismantled the Stasi to the Ukrainians just now) while the UK (which still sees itself as an Empire and not part of Europe) and the US try to set them up.

    Will politicians be able to reign them in? No. We can safely assume that the “security services” (what an oxymoron) have enough dirt on every politician to shut them up or make them say whatever they want.

    Anyone who still thinks Snowden isn’t a hero and should be commended and supported is putting himside alongside those who support(ed) Honecker in East Germany, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Putin in Russia, Janukowitch in Ukraine, etc. – and not on the side of freedom and democracy.

    1. You are right about the topsy-turvy world, but don’t despair. As you say the “security services” may “have enough dirt on every politician to shut them up or make them say whatever they want.” but as you pointed out in oxymoron fashion, they are not secure, nor are they providing a service. The real service will come from those like Snowden who will hack into their systems and bring forth the dirt into the light. It will be faster than the current government and justice systems will be able to deal with, as it should be, the whole concept needs an overhaul and that won’t happen until critical levels are reached.

      Welcome to the interesting times.

      1. You have touched on an interesting existential point, one that obviates some of the paranoia.

        Any large organisation has an internal structure with a rather large failure matrix compared with a system of small mobile cells.

        Since intelligence and ingenuity cannot be monopolised, the likelihood of being hacked is higher than that of maintaining rigid control.

        If history has any single lesson for us, it is that regime change is as inevitable as the appearance of a rainbow after a vicious storm.

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