British spy agency spied on millions of Yahoo videochats

Friday, 28 February 2014 - 9:13pm IST | Agency: dna

As per the guardian's revelations thursday night, Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and retained the webcam images of millions of people not suspected of wrongdoing. Yahoo denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".

Secret documents reveal that from 2008 to 2010 a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve intercepted and stored webcam stills of millions of people from all over the world. The GCHQ program saved one image every five minutes from Yahoo users video conversations. The conversations are said to include large volumes of sexually explicit images.

The documents reveals a struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit photos collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of GCHQ's employees. Edward Snowdens leaked documents prove that this program began in its test phase in 2008 and was still active as of 2012.The documents describe these users as unselected, therefore the data collection can be categorized as bulk rather than targeted collection.

After the webcam images are collected, the metadata associated with the videos is as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves. The metadata for the video conversations can reveal the identity of the people involved by linking them to their email addresses and location data.

This data has the potential to destroy peoples lives if the information is leaked to the public and there is nothing preventing an employee of GCHQ from revealing data for any personal reasons.

The intelligence value from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, a research document from the mid-2000s stated: "One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies."

“The NSA and its UK accomplices show no respect for the rule of law.” said Julian Assange in a statement in response to revelations of GCHQ spying on Wikileaks.”US government deployed "elements of state power" to pressure European nations into abusing their own legal systems; and that the British spy agency GCHQ is engaged in extensive hostile monitoring of a popular publisher’s website and its readers. “he added referring to Wikileaks

Interestingly, just two days ago the NSA asked the FISA court for permission to store millions of phone records of foreign nationals beyond the five-year limit currently imposed on the agency. The Department Of Justice argued that they need to retain the data as "evidence" because of the privacy lawsuits filed after Edward Snowden revealed the administration's digital dragnet.  

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