Has GCHQ taken a photo from your webcam?

GCHQIf you use Yahoo! chat then the answer may well be yes.

Today’s remarkable revelation that GCHQ has been capturing images (a “surprising” number of which were of people who may not have been fully clothed)

As the Guardian reports:

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.

Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets. We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes.

It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate intrusion on people’s privacy.

It is becoming increasingly obvious how badly the law has failed to keep pace with technology and how urgently we need a comprehensive review of surveillance law and oversight structures. As more people buy technology with built-in cameras, from Xbox Kinect to laptops and smart TVs, we need to be sure that the law does not allow for them to be routinely accessed when there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing.

Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 in CCTV, GCHQ, Online privacy | 10 Comments


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  3. Anonymous
    27th February 2014

    Glad I never got a webcam and also never got into the photo sharing thing, glad I don’t have Facecrook either.

  4. Matt
    27th February 2014

    It always amazes me how few people realise that a “smart TV” with camera is *exactly* Orwell’s Telescreen.

    But even Orwell didn’t manage to predict the advent of the portable Telescreen (iPad) and the fact that it has a second camera watching any unfortunate people who happen to be behind the device. Given the opaque nature of the software (and even if it’s squeaky clean, the ever-present threat of malware) the only safe option is to treat the camera as on at all times – unless it’s had a drill bit through the lens or at the very least been physically covered up.

    Yet people still voluntarily part with large sums of money to own such devices. Madness.

  5. Anonymous
    28th February 2014

    I’m surprised at the fact that more people should be outraged at this as it is seen as voyeurism and also pedophilia.

    If they don’t lose immunity from prosecution soon, I will have lost ALL faith in the UK having any actual intelligence at all. Cheltenham should have cops swarming all over it by now, but the public is too apolitical to demand that.

    • Wilderness
      2nd March 2014

      I agree with you. We cannot just move on from this to the next big story as if nothing happened. This is so creepy for what happened and for it portends down the road: the authoritarian control of virtually every aspect of our lives and that of our children by a monstrous, immoral government.

      I am curious: Did Clapper and Alexander warn their children and grandchildren to cover their webcams? Or were they okay with spies watching their families in their bedrooms? I wish that someone would ask this question during the investigations. Protect the elite, but us common folk, I bet.

      • Wilderness
        2nd March 2014

        Edit: Protect the elite, but not us common folk, I bet.

    • Big Sister
      10th March 2014

      Exactly my thoughts, it is blanket surveillance, not targeted at terrorists, just random. 3-11% of the images stored were of ‘undesirable nudity’ so it makes you wonder how many of these are of children. And these are being STORED. Last time I checked you go to prison for storing pornographic pictures of children. Who knows what happens to you if you spy on thousands and store their images??
      Well nothing apparently.
      I can’t belive how little coverage this has got, if you Google it now it brings up stories from February, there has been virtually no coverage of it after it came out, yet everyday we hear about the ‘phone hacking scandal’ along with the associated outrage from it. I can’t fathom how people can be outraged by that but not this.
      The Government should be ashamed of themselves for letting this happen, and the British public should be even more ashamed for not caring.

  6. Wilderness
    2nd March 2014

    I am wondering what parents think about the NSA and GCHQ collecting millions of webcam photos of their children. I cannot imagine how depraved and asleep a nation’s people would have to be to not demand that these spying perverts be prosecuted for recording children.

  7. OldGlory13
    8th March 2014

    America has to wake up and take back control of our privacy and security. When the servers are located in the US or Canada (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc.) they are subject to the US Patriot Act. That means that when the government (NSA, IRS, etc.) requests information on us those companies MUST comply – and all without a search warrant. This is against the US Constitution’s 4th Amendment. Check out ForHisGlory.PrivacyAbroad.com for established Swiss-based companies that ARE NOT under US jurisdiction! Let’s take back our Fourth Amendment rights!!